Fresh chiles add flavor and punch to all sorts of our favorite dishes, and can range from mild to exceedingly spicy. Even the same type of chile, such as the jalapeño, can vary widely in its heat level. The heat of a chile comes from a compound called capsaicin, which, when it comes into contact with your skin or other sensitive areas, such as your eyes, can cause pain, burning and irritation.
Working with the chiles, especially the hotter ones, can be unpleasant unless you follow a few precautions. The best practice is to avoid direct contact with them, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves when handling them. We keep a box of disposable polyethylene or latex gloves in our kitchen for just this purpose.
Follow our five simple steps for pain-free chile pepper prep.
Step 1: Quarter the chile lengthwise
Wear a disposable glove on the hand that touches the chile to prevent irritation from its potent oils. Using a paring knife, cut the chile in half lengthwise, then into quarters.
Step 2: For a milder flavor, remove the seeds and ribs
Using the paring knife, cut away the seeds and ribs from each chile quarter. Capsaicin is concentrated in these areas; removing them lessens the heat. Of course, if you want a spicier dish, leave the seeds and membranes intact.
Step 3: Slice the quarters into strips
Place the quarters, cut side up, on the cutting board. Cut into narrow strips about 1/8 inch wide. Take care not to pierce your glove.
Step 4: Dice and mince the strips
Line up the chile strips and cut them crosswise at 1/8-inch intervals. Rest the fingertips of one hand on the top of the knife and rock the blade back and forth over the pieces to mince them.
Step 5: Don’t forget to wash up well!
Finally, after working with chiles, be sure to wash your hands, the cutting board and the knife you’ve used thoroughly. Also, avoid touching your eyes, any part of your face or any other sensitive areas until you’re sure you’ve washed away every trace of capsaicin.