Thursday, October 16, 2008

How I handle chili peppers (don't laugh)

The standard language used by cookbooks for dealing with hot chili peppers is to tell people to use gloves. This is a perfectly reasonable piece of advice, because the substance in chili peppers that makes them hot to the palate also makes them hot to your hands (and lord help you if you rub your eyes).

I usually ignore this advice and go ahead and take my chances. I try to have as little contact as possible with the inner ribs of the pepper (which is really where the heat is by the way, not the seeds) and I wash my hands with hot, soapy water the minute I'm done. What this does is just tame the effects of the capsaicin (the heat-producing compound) to a tolerable level. My hands tingle a bit for awhile, but no biggy.

However I draw the line at Scotch bonnet peppers. These little chili peppers are among the hottest in the world--40 or 50 times hotter than a jalapeƱo! So when I have to cut up one of these suckers, you can be sure I'm not so bold.

But I don't keep a supply of chili-pepper gloves in my kitchen. Do you? So when the need arises, here's my solution. I take a plastic produce bag (which I keep for using a second time anyway), put it on my hand and push it down in between my fingers. A rubber band at the wrist keeps it in place, though that's not entirely necessary.

Then when I'm done cutting the pepper, I just pull the bag off, turning it inside out, and throw it away, not feeling guilty about throwing away a plastic bag because I used it twice.

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