11/03/2011 02:39 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Work With Chiles

Chef Brannon Soileau of The Culinary Institute of America begins by explaining that chile peppers can transfer their heat to your hands via their oils, so it's safest to use food preparation gloves when cutting them. He starts by cutting a serrano chile in half lengthwise, then, using a sharp knife, removes the white pith and the seeds. (Most of the chile's heat is stored here, and the seeds can be difficult to digest.) He cuts the flesh into thin strips, then turns the strips on their sides and slices across to mince. His simple advice: You don't want to leave large chunks in delicate dishes, but bigger pieces are desirable for bold, spicy dishes.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Chef Brannon Soileau from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic today: how to work with hot chiles.

This is a serrano chile pepper that we're using today. It's one of the hotter ones, so until you understand your skin, and how your oils and body react to chile peppers, you may want to consider wearing gloves. Remember, it's just to prevent the oils of the chile peppers from touching your skin.

We're going to cut this pepper directly in half, all the way through both sides, and then we're going to lay them open - just like so. We're going to remove the pith, any of the white pith from inside the chile pepper, and any of the seeds. The seeds and the pith, the inside membranes of the chile, are where the real heat is contained. Depending on the application of your recipe and how you wanted to use the chile, it would certainly be all right to use the pith and the seeds, but for most applications you remove the seeds and the pith. For one thing, the seeds aren't that great to eat; they kind of get caught in your teeth, and they don't digest very well, so most recipes call for you to remove the pith and the seeds.

I've made small insertions around the pith and I'm just going to move the chile around slowly under my knife, and move it through that pith and remove those seeds. Give it a light tap; if there are any caught inside that channel I will remove them. Now you end up with the actual flesh of the chile pepper.

If I was going to make some type of cold application, or a salad, I would probably cut it in very fine strips, so that they don't dominate the dish that I'm working with - and then I would turn those strips on their side and I would mince. I would do that for maybe a cold preparation: a dungeness crab jalapeno salad, something like that. You wouldn't want to put a jalapeno that's massive in a salad that's delicate like that. It'll dominate it, it'll ruin it. On the other hand, maybe I'm going to make a salsa, and then I want to take this same meat and cut larger pieces, almost a larger dice or a medium dice - so that I do want the dominance of the chile. How you're going to use a chile pepper is important to what your final prepared product is going to be, and what the recipe calls for.