Tips & Techniques

The Genius Way to Handle Hot Peppers (+ a Genius Salmon Recipe to Put Them On)

September 16, 2015

Every week, Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: No more fiery fingers, no more burning eyeballs. A hot pepper P.S.A.

Garlic Lime Salmon

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. 

Or maybe after you've felt this burn 3 or 4 or 5 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. 

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Grated Serrano Pepper

Here is my favorite new way to do it, which I learned from the blog A Spicy Perspective via Food52's own 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 chiles, that you don't necessarily want lingering on your hands all day."

Grater and grated serrano

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, mrslarkin??). And it naturally separates out the seeds, leaving them behind on the grater, which you can add back in for texture if you like.

Grated Serrano

Quickly, let's take a moment to discuss the fact that the seeds aren't the primary source of the chile'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.

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 tissue," 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.

Raw salmon

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? Okay!), olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Uncooked Garlic Lime Salmon

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.

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.

Garlic lime salmon, consumed

A Spicy Perspective's Garlic Lime Oven-Baked Salmon

Adapted slightly from Sommer Collier of A Spicy Perspective

Serves 6 to 8

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

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 [email protected]. Thank you to Food52er mrslarkin for this one!

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mrslarkin
  • Cheri Mayell
    Cheri Mayell
  • JillN
  • Streaper
  • boysenme
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


mrslarkin November 7, 2016
How did I miss this? So glad it made it into the Genius category. Going to try it with halibut tonight!
Cheri M. September 23, 2015
I never thought of grating the chillies, I will try that, now I just need to know the best way to freeze red & green chillies as I got a bulk buy! Shall keep them whole/grated, in rings for topping pizzas etc decisions help!
JillN September 20, 2015
I'm confused (and perhaps need some caffeine). if I grate a pepper...won't I still get capsaicin on my fingers?
Kristen M. September 21, 2015
Just hold it by the stem end and don't grate down to the point that your fingers are touching any exposed parts and you'll be safe!
Streaper September 20, 2015
Could you use halibut, cod or tuna for this recipe? I want to try it but do not eat salmon. Thank you.
Kristen M. September 21, 2015
Yes, absolutely—some may take more or less time to cook, but just keep a close eye on them.
boysenme September 20, 2015
I like the tip on grating the peppers!

And teachers should know it's "...individuals WHO want to cook...," not that want to cook. Just sayin'....;)
hrnry K. September 20, 2015
Ive found something even better to use. Lum Taylor BBQ sauce. I use it on eggs poultry beef and fish. Its low sodium for folks like myself that love sauce but due to high blood pressure cant indulge. I found it at Healthy Heart .com. I just read your salmon recipe and 400 degrees for 10ish minutes is to high. I cook my salmon at 350 for ten minutes and dont get a dry piece. I follow the same rule with all filleted fish. I dont do farm raised fish due to the fact they are loaded with antibiotics something I have an allergy towards. Its getting cool out and a nice bowl of mussels are great. Try them they are simple to make you just steam them till they open and then have then with a bowl of butter and alittle ketchup mixed in. They are very sweet but make sure you get them fresh. You dont need to go out to eat well plus they only take minutes to fix . Forget all the wine and stuff they try to dress it up with they are sweet all by themselves. Whats ironic is I learned to cook out of necessity and the fact you really cant trust what you order when you go out to eat. If anyone wants more recipes or questions I will answer all comments.
Sharon September 21, 2015
There are many ways to cook salmon; grilling, sautéing, smoking, slow roasting, poaching in barely warm oil or court bouillon, to brushing with fat/oil and quick roasting at a high temperature, just to name a few. All yield excellent results when executed properly. 400° for 10 minutes is NOT too high (for a 1 inch thick steak or fillet) and has always resulted in a moist, opaque serving of salmon in professional as well as home kitchens.
W September 18, 2015
I'm a teacher. Is this a SpecialEd article for individuals that want to cook, but don't know how to handle spicy peppers? Or is this just filler?
April September 20, 2015
You're not a very nice teacher.
tanya September 20, 2015
You can skip directly to the recipe if you don't want to read the article. I like the articles...