The shishito — a mild, distinctly delicious pepper originally from Japan — has made its appearance in all sorts of cuisines over the years, most notably in East Asian cooking. But one of its most recent debuts was in the Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill’s Laguna Beach kitchen.
One dish in particular, the wood-grilled hanger steak with okra, charred tomatoes and watermelon radish, mixes tropical tastes with the unexpected mild heat of this ingredient. It’s the creation of renowned Chef Martin Molteni, who ranks among Argentina’s top chefs. He joined his brother and fellow chef, Mariano “Maro” Molteni, who formerly owned Argentina-inspired steakhouse Maro Wood Grill, in the rebirth of the Royal Hawaiian. The brothers took over ownership and operations in January, and since then, the restaurant has undergone a face-lift, an overhaul of the food and drink menu, and a rebranding. The restaurant reopened as Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill in April, and together Martin and Maro are continuing the landmark restaurant’s aloha spirit with an homage to Polynesian-inspired dishes, drinks and flavors.
“[The hanger steak] not only reflects the beautiful California summer season, but it also spotlights our real love for open wood-grill cooking, which is a cultural highlight in both Argentina, where my brother Maro and I were raised, and Polynesian culinary heritages,” says Martin. “I chose hanger steak as the protein, as it has a great deal of character and presence. When you choose hanger steak, however, every subsequent product you choose for the plate must have a strong edge in flavor, too. The shishito pepper is a perfect choice because it gives acidity, fruitiness and a soft piquant that helps to express the meat’s lovely flavor.”
Bright, slightly sweet and a little bit smoky, the shishito makes an excellent addition to dishes that require a pepper without adding too much heat. Frieda’s Specialty Produce’s Alex Berkley describes the taste of the shishito pepper as a cross between a jalapeño and a bell pepper. “They have the great taste of peppers without being overly hot,” she notes. “So I can actually taste the pepper and incorporate them with other ingredients, without them overwhelming the recipe.”
Although shishito peppers were originally from Japan, Berkley says they’re now most often sourced from Mexico. Bright green and bumpy, they’re usually about finger-length and, like many peppers, they’re naturally high in vitamin C. The seeds of the shishito are edible, and those who are more sensitive to spice need not worry much — only one in 10 shishitos reach a medium level of heat.
Often found in East Asian cuisine, the shishito offers an interesting array of flavors depending on how it’s prepared. When left raw, the crisp, thin walls of the shishito are reminiscent of a bell pepper, although it becomes much more complex when cooked. Since the shishito is quite thin-skinned, it chars and blisters easily. When paired with simple ingredients such as soy sauce or sesame oil, the distinct smokiness of the pepper shines through.“Grilled or roasted is the most common way to prepare them,” Berkley says.
And when it came to preparing their wood-grilled hanger steak, Maro and Martin wanted to go with an ingredient that would lend a light and fresh profile, while still offering a depth of flavor and strong character. “It’s a perfect summery plate that expresses all the bright and fresh produce of the season,” notes Martin.
Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill
331 N Coast Highway | Laguna Beach, CA 92651