The Indespensible Mandoline
March 6, 2008 • Tools
I’m not really one to buy specialty kitchen tools that can be used for only one purpose. They clutter my cabinets and drawers and just add to the clean up mess after cooking. Garlic presses, mushroom slicers, and other clumsy tools generally jam drawers and are difficult to clean. Spend some time mastering a good chef’s knife and you’ll eliminate 80% of these!
A mandoline or V-slicer, however, is another story altogether. Unless you are truly gifted with the knife skills of Martin Yan or Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, it’s virtually impossible to get perfectly even, thin slices with a mere chef’s knife. About now you might be asking why you care about perfectly even, thin slices, but trust me, you do care. When making a layered potato gratin you can’t have some really thick and some paper thin layers – it doesn’t cook evenly and it looks terrible when you cut it. Remember, you eat with your eyes first! And if you’ve ever tried to julienne vegetables by hand, especially crisp ones like a carrot, you probably ended up with a knife wound like my friend Kitty.
A mandoline or V-slicer does all the work for you – just pick thin or thick and whether you want slices or julienne, and let ‘er rip! Make sure to use the guard or a thick kitchen towel to hold the item you are cutting or you will slice off a piece of your finger (yuk, right?) without even feeling it. My daughter did this once when trying to slice a grapefruit into paper thin slices for a block party (only the daughter of a serious foodie would even think to do this).
You can spend anywhere from $20 to hundreds of dollars for a mandoline – the one I’ve pictured at the top is a cheap, simple one (often called a V-slicer instead of a mandoline, but they do the same thing) that I ordered from some early morning infomercial and it’s served me well through many meals and numerous classes.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, my friend Kitty (right after the recent knife injury) purchased the very nice Oxo Mandoline, which is available at Crate and Barrel for around $70 or another model at Williams-Sonoma for about $50. I actually like it better than mine because it has legs. And you can always splurge for a very fancy stainless professional variety of mandoline if you think perfectly even, thin slices are going to be something you crave with every meal. They’re available at professional cookware supply stores or Williams-Sonoma, and run from $150 up.