Shiso is an aromatic bitter herb with a flavor profile in the same ballpark as mint and Thai basil: metallic, sharply sour but with a hint of sweetness, and an underlay of smoke or maybe cinnamon. The big (3-4” across) shiso leaves are perfect for wrapping around a wad of rice or fish as is done in sushi restaurants; it’s a natural with uni. Shiso is also called the “beefsteak plant” because its feral flavor makes some think of a rare piece of beef.
I love shiso and couldn’t get enough of it, until I ended up with two productive shiso plants in my back yard. They were about to go to seed and I’ve been scrambling to find creative ways to use it up. Rule of thumb: anything fishy tastes great with shiso. For proof, buy a few leaves at a Japanese market, cut into chiffonade, mix with scallops that have been sliced into thirds and add some good olive oil: you’ve just made scallop crudo with shiso. Those store-bought leaves are pricey so, if you like what you tasted, make plans to plant shiso plants next spring.
Here’s another rule: it’s safe to experiment with shiso in any recipe that calls for basil, as a 1:1 replacement by volume. The other night I stuck a few chopped leaves in a grilled cheese sandwich for a tart flavor accent. And I mixed some shiso leaves into cheese grits to serve with some nice short ribs.
Just when I was running out of ideas, I ran across the Culinarius Eugenius website and a recipe to make salt shiso pickles. Pickled shiso? Why not. That’s what they do in Korea with perilla, shiso’s cousin. The remaining leaves were pressed into a jar, each sprinkled with a few grains of salt, and are now tucked away in the back of the refrigerator as they cure. Now the plants are starting to flower and I’m planning to harvest a few seeds for next year.