Best way to handle jalapenos and other hot peppers: Grate them!

Stop Accidentally Burning Your Eyes. Here’s the Best Way to Handle Jalapeños.

Stop Accidentally Burning Your Eyes. Here’s the Best Way to Handle Jalapeños.

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Sept. 18 2015 8:32 AM

Stop Accidentally Burning Your Eyes. Here’s the Best Way to Handle Jalapeños.

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It seems so obvious once you know about it.

Photo by James Ransom

This post originally appeared on Food52.

If you’ve ever pulled the seeds from a serrano or tiny habanero and then rubbed your eye, or felt the consuming burn hours after gutting a panful of roasted poblanos with your bare hands, you've learned to handle peppers with care. And sometimes with gloves. I've even taken to using a loose onion scrap for protection. 

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Or maybe after you’ve felt this burn three or four or five times, the last of which led to crying quietly while watching a Sopranos marathon, your hands coated in soft butter and resting in a bowl of ice water—maybe then you start to handle peppers with care. 

Here is my favorite new way to do it, which I learned from the blog A Spicy Perspective via Food52’s mrslarkin. In the same way that you can grate garlic cloves or ginger instead of mincing them finely, you can grate any hot pepper. “I often grate or shave vegetables with a coarse microplane-style grater because it produces very thin uniform pieces in a hurry,” Sommer Collier, the blog’s author, told me. “It works especially well with things like garlic and spicy chilies, that you don't necessarily want lingering on your hands all day.”

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Photo by James Ransom

This trick protects your fingers from ever having to navigate the spice zone, even giving you a convenient handle on the stem end. It's also quite easy to do and makes your prep so much faster (why have we not been doing this for years??). And it naturally separates out the seeds, leaving them behind on the grater, which you can add back in for texture if you like.

Quickly, let’s take a moment to discuss the fact that the seeds aren't the primary source of the chili’s spice—one of the most oft repeated non-truths in food journalism and casual dinner table conversations, along with the notion that searing locks in the juices and trussing chickens helps them cook more evenly.

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Capsaicin, the compound responsible for burning our tongues (and sometimes fingers and eyes), is concentrated almost entirely in the spongy white ribs that the seeds dangle from, not so much in the seeds themselves (there are 100 parts capsaicin in the “placental” a.k.a. ribs, to 6 parts in the flesh and 4 parts in the seeds, according to Harold McGee)—though the seeds may help to carry the spice around once it’s set free, just like anything else it touches.

Keep this in mind when you decide how many seeds to keep in—if you’ve already grated in the ribs, your pile will be spicy whether you leave all the seeds behind or not.

So there’s all of this extra ease and convenience and spice-safety, and you get a delicious salmon in moments, to boot. In this Collier’s recipe, you’ll cover your salmon in grated jalapeño and grated lime, plus garlic (Want to grate that too? OK!), olive oil, salt, and pepper.

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Photo by James Ransom

Bake it for 10ish minutes and your salmon just got much more flashy and delicious. Collier calls for baking at 400°F, which works just fine, but ever since I learned about slow-roasting, I've taken to the more forgiving pace and tender results, so I’ve dropped the temperature a tad here. It’s flexible, depending on your preferred texture (the lower the temperature, the softer the salmon will be), how vigilant you are, and the temperature your oven perhaps already is.

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But salmon isn’t the only destination for this hack. Here are but a few more places you can (safely, swiftly) grate your peppers: Into guacamole or salsa, into a pot of beans or chili or posole. Into your scrambled eggs and breakfast tacos; your marinades and hot sauces and mojos. Just not into your eye. End P.S.A.

2 pounds wild-caught whole salmon fillet
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lime, zest and juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at kristen@food52.com.Thank you to Food52er mrslarkin for this one!