If you're slicing an onion, it makes sense to reach for your chef's knife. After all, that's its job! But what if you're making French onion soup? That means instead slicing one onion, you're slicing three pounds of onions. That task is going to get tedious very quickly.
Or what if you're making homemade french fries? Not only is julienning a large amount of potatoes a difficult task, but if you should cut them unevenly, with some of them thicker than others, you'll end up with some fries that are undercooked while others are nearly burnt.
Jobs like these are where a tool called a mandoline can come in handy.
What Is a Mandoline?
A mandoline slicer is a device made up of a flat surface fitted with a sharp blade, that lets you slice vegetables and fruits quickly, precisely and (ideally) safely. You simply slide the item back and forth across the blade and your perfect, uniform slices emerge below. By slicing the item at different angles, you can achieve all kinds of interesting bias cuts. Some will even dice and chop.
Types of Mandolines
Depending on your needs, as well as your budget, there are quite a few excellent mandolines on the market, from heavy metal adjustable French constructions to smaller, lighter, and much cheaper single-slice plastic options.
The simplest models have only one setting that slices very thinly. High-end mandolines let you adjust the blades to create paper-thin to slightly thicker slices, and come with attachments to make julienne cuts (which are long, slender cuts like french fries) or shreds, wavy cuts, and even waffle cuts.
One of the major differences in types of mandolines is whether it has its own stand or is a hand-held style. The ones with a stand are more stable, but setup and cleaning can also be more involved. The hand-held ones tend to be simpler to use and clean up but are less stable and offer fewer types of blades.
Another difference is that the fancier models let you make fine adjustments with cutting thickness, whereas the simpler ones might only offer interchangeable plates that offer preset thicknesses.
Now, the more complicated models are more of a hassle to set up, and clean, and in some cases adjusting the blades can be tricky. And the more difficult a tool is to use, or clean afterwards, the less likely you are to use it. A simpler model, without the bells and whistles, might end up being more useful than a high-end one that you never take out of the cabinet.
With that said, if you know you want to use your mandoline slicer for making julienne cuts, you'll be limited to the models that offer that feature, which are generally the higher-end ones.
One feature that you shouldn't skimp on is safety. Mandoline blades are razor sharp, so you have to be extremely careful when using one.
Most models come with some type of holder to protect your hand from the blade. Instead of having your hand directly on the vegetable while pushing it back and forth, the vegetable sits underneath a finger guard. Some cooks even opt to wear metal mesh gloves to protect their fingers and hands.
The safest models will have a nonslip base and will sit securely over a cutting board or the edge of a bowl or pan.
When to Use a Mandoline
A mandoline is typically used when making dishes that require uniformly sliced vegetables, such as a potato gratin or homemade potato chips. But it is also used to make french fries, vegetable slaws, and shredded or shaved vegetable dishes. This tool also comes in handy when you're short on time and need a generous amount of fruit or vegetable cut quickly.
Caring for a Mandoline
Taking care of a mandoline slicer is mainly a matter of cleaning it. Here you'll want to follow the instructions of your particular model, but some are safe for the dishwasher, which obviously makes things easier. Some models require disassembling the blade from the body of the mandoline and washing it by hand and air drying it. Not only is this a hassle, but anytime you're handling the blades directly, you're running the risk of cutting yourself.