Two peppers, both alike in dignity. Padróns and shishitos look similar and are often prepared in the same way- blistered on a hot skillet- but what is the difference between these frying peppers, and more importantly which one tastes better?
These peppers are in fact cousins, both belong to the capsisum annum family. The padrón is a Spanish cultivar, named for the municipality of Padrón in northwest Spain. Padróns are normally mild but about 1 in 10 will light up your mouth with heat equivalent to a jalapeño. For some, this possibility of heat is a turn off but I think it adds excitement to this appetizer. Padróns should be harvested when they are 3 inches long and vibrant green. If they are picked larger they have a higher chance of being spicy.
Shishitos are a southeast Asian cultivar most associated with Japan. While padróns have smooth skin, shishitos have wrinkles, ‘shishi’ means lion in Japanese and the bottom of the pepper looks a bit like a lion's head. It is less likely to discover a spicy shishito, (I hear it is 1 in 100 but I have never personally encountered any heat). So if you are adverse to spicy food the shishito is a better bet.
On the growing side of things both of these varieties have to be picked clean three times a week. It is not always easy to find the peppers amongst the foliage and as such picking the frying peppers is not among the favorite harvest tasks on the farm.
As far as flavor both peppers have their fans. Padróns have a smokey, earthy flavor with a complexity that comes from the heat that is lurking just behind the curtain. Shishitos are sweeter, less complicated and have thicker walls that can handle more time in the hot pan and make for a satisfying bite. I prefer the padróns but the best bet is to buy a pint of each to taste test for yourself.
Shameless plug: We have shishito and padróns available at the Occidental Farmers' Market and the Healdsburg Farmers' Market shoot us a message here to reserve yours. They go quickly!