Kitchen Basics: Chile Peppers

July 16, 2012

In her biweekly column, Kitchen Basics, Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen demystifies essential cooking skills with step-by-step instructions and her own handsome photos. Whether she's showing us how much brown sugar we're meant to "pack"(or is it cram?) into measuring cups or how to detect when our onions are properly caramelized, Susan is the nonna we never had -- until now. Now, go on and get cozy under her wing.

This week, Susan demonstrates how to select, seed, and chop chiles.

chile peppers
Jalapeños (the chubby ones) and serranos may be the same color, but serranos pack between two and five times more heat

- Susan

My mom is marvelous cook, and early on I discovered that chile peppers are her secret weapon. They not only add heat to curries, stir-fries, and casseroles, they also heighten the flavor of other ingredients. Affordable and available year-round (but in season now), it’s easy to keep a steady supply in the kitchen. 

How to Select

Chiles continue to ripen after they are harvested and many become hotter as they mature. Their color also deepens or changes. Jalapeños, for example, go from green to red as they age. If you’re looking for maximum heat, select darker chiles from the bunch. Taut, shiny skin is a sign of freshness. Avoid soft, wrinkled chiles that look like they could use a boost of Botox.

How to Remove the Seeds and Inner Tissue

Chiles get their kick from capsaicin, a chemical concentrated in the spongy inner tissue and seeds. Since capsaicin has an irritating affect, avoid touching any part of your face (especially your eyes) when prepping chiles. If you have sensitive skin, be sure to wear gloves. During clean-up, carefully wash your hands and kitchen equipment with soapy water to cleanse away any capsaicin that may have lingered behind.

Chile peppers can be prepped with the capsaicin-laden tissues and seeds intact. If you want to dial down the heat, use these simple steps to remove them:

Thoroughly wash and dry the chile. Lay it on its side on a cutting board and use a chef’s knife to slice off the stem end. 


Slice the chile in half lengthwise.

slice chile chile

Place one half of the chile on the cutting board with the cut side facing up. Slide the tip of the knife under the tissue and carefully cut it away from the inner wall of the chile without cutting through the flesh.


Use your fingers or the tip of the knife to scrape out the seeds.


How to Chop

Lay one half of the trimmed, deseeded chile on a cutting board skin side down. Cut it in thick slices lengthwise. 

chile slice

Rotate the slices 90 degrees and cut across them widthwise.


How to Julienne

Lay one half of the trimmed, deseeded chile on a cutting board skin side down. Cut it in thin slices lengthwise.


How to Mince

Lay one half of the trimmed, deseeded chile on a cutting board skin side down. Cut it in thin slices lengthwise (julienne). 

sliced chiles

Rotate the slices 90 degrees and cut across the slices widthwise.

mince chile

chile pepper
Slices of fresh jalapeño brighten a ground beef stir-fry

I’d love to see your tips for prepping chile peppers! Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.

Are you new to cooking? Tell me what skills you'd like to learn and your idea could be featured in an upcoming post!

Want more basic tips from Susan? Check out her previous post: Kitchen Basics: Peaches.

All photos by Susan Pachikara.

Susan writes the blog Cardamom Kitchen to share her culinary experiences as an Indian-American rooted in the Midwest. 

susan cardamom kitchen

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