I know that to be really safe, especially with really hot peppers or large quantities, gloves are the way to go. But often I don't really need gloves: I have a small quantity of something not too hot (jalapeños or serranos), and I have a reasonable tolerance. How should I chop or mince them, minimizing the amount of capsaicin I get on my hands?
I won't claim that this is universal, and I probably wouldn't try it with scotch bonnets or ghost peppers, but this is what I do with poblanos, seranos, jalapenos, and the like:
- Treat them like any other vegetable when you prep, using good knife skills, and a well sharpened knife—good skills minimize how much you touch the product anyway.
- Don't touch your eyes or face or anything you don't have to.
- When you are done, wash your hands in soapy water.
Here is how I would dice a jalapeno (I like the red ones the best) or similar small pepper. For this, I would use a paring knife. For a larger pepper, like a poblano, I would use chef knife or a santuko:
- Cut off the stem end so only the fleshy part of the pepper remains. It will be a little cone. Optionally, cut a tiny part of the tip, to make it easier to separate the flesh, but it is not absolutely required.
- Cut a a slit into the side of the pepper through the flesh and into the cavity... then... continuing the same motion...
- ... turn your knife parallel to the flesh, and run the edge of the blade around the inside of the pod so that you are essentially peeling the skin from the core of seeds and membranes. This is much easier to do than to describe in text.
- Discard the seeds and membranes.
- Unroll the pepper, skin side up, and flatten the flesh of the pepper out, so it is like a piece of paper. It may split a little when you do this, that is fine. It is easiest to flatten with the outside facing up, but easiest to cut with the outside of the skin facing the cutting board.
- Turn the pepper sheet over, so it is skin side down. Cut it into long, thin strips—juliennes.
- Cross-cut the juliennes into dice.
If you want a hotter product, and a more rustic one, with a small pepper, you can simply:
- Cut of the stem end.
- Slice the remaining pepper into circles or coins, thinly.
If you want very hot dice, you can then:
- Pile up the coins, and chop through them several times in the standard rocking motion with a chef's knife.
I have used this method with Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros. Jalapenos are tame in comparison. All bets are off with Ghost Peppers. Those are weapons grade.:
- Before dealing with the pepper, rub oil (olive is fine) on your fingers making sure you get it embedded around your finger nails.
Besides that, the simple ways you can minimize burn:
- Avoid touching the cut surfaces of the pepper. The pepper skin is relatively tame.
- Avoid touching the juice on the cutting board.
- Use your knife to manipulate and move the pepper around be board.
p.s. don't even think of taking a bio-break in the middle of dealing with peppers.
Just use a scrap of paper to hold the chile with
A 100 mm square-ish piece would suffice to hold most chiles. Just lay the paper over it on the cutting board, and pinch it gently
If the paper gets wet or oily, grab another piece
Any scrap paper would do, but glossy "junk mail" types would tend to be more water proof, and free. Discard paper after use