Monday, February 25, 2008

Cheap-O Kitchen: Playing the Mandolin

The mandolin slicer may seem like a professional chef's tool, but don't be intimidated. The mandolin that I'm going to recommend is NOT a big shiny metal contraption that requires an instruction sheet to set up and operate. In this case, we're going to skip the bells and whistles and go for utility. In most kitchens, clutter equals frustration, so less is more.

Why do you need a mandolin? Well, you may not. If you've got Iron Chef Morimoto knife skills, then you might be able to cut uniform razor thin zucchini chips. Or, you might know how to julienne the perfect match-stick veggies for an immaculate salad of winter CSA produce. If you can't do those things easily with a knife and cutting board, then you need a mandolin. In fact, you may need a mandolin just in case you want to make scalloped potatoes that aren't from a box for once. To heck with the high brow cuisine. Hell, let's just make quick work of the onions for once in our lives.

The Swissmar Mandolin is super minimalist; all sturdy plastic except for some very deadly sharp German steel blades. When I bought mine, it $21.99 with free shipping. Some days, Amazon has it on sale, and other days it's full price. Either way, the purchase is worth every penny. It's the most popular mandolin on and the reviews are stellar. Now, you can get a lesser brand for under $10, but the reviews say it isn't sharp enough.

Sure, it's dishwasher safe, but all you have to do is rinse it and it's clean. There's even this thingy that holds the veggie (or meat product, if you must) so you don't mandolin the tips of you fingers off (really important!). And when you're not using your mandolin, just slide it into its plastic sleeve and toss it into the forgotten appliance cupboard.

So, is this hand operated slicer adjustable for thickness? Right, like you're really gonna use that feature. But, since you asked, it can be set for 1/8" or 1/4" slices and there are two widths of julienne sticks. Here's a little recipe to make you jump up and smack yourself that you've never done this before now:

MF'n Tater Chips

  • do a bunch of 1/8" potato slices
  • heat a couple table spoons of olive oil in a skillet
  • lay the slices on the pan and sprinkle with salt
  • flip the slices when they're golden on one side (and sprinkle more salt)
  • place slices (now chips) on a paper towel when they "look good enough to eat"

That wasn't hard, was it? Aren't those the best potato chips you've ever had? Next time, try sprinkling your favorite spices (pepper, cayenne, garlic powder). This is coming from a guy who thinks tortilla chips are for the mensa select and potato chips are for everyone else. These fresh skillet chips are amazing and they'll keep you from dropping $4 per bag of even less healthy Kettle Chips. Feel free to call them by another acronym than the one I've chosen.

In a bonafide food blog, a foodie crowed about her mandolin. One of the commenters chimed in with a suggestion that I'm fixin to whip up at my house. Tell'em bout it Erika from 2004:

I use my mandoline all the time to make julienned zucchini. The thin julienne, sauteed very briefly (just until the skin turns bright green and it starts to relax, 2-3 minutes at most) is a wonderful spaghetti substitute, especially in tomato or cheese sauces. It's also good if you add in some thinly sliced onions. It's pretty good with sesame-peanut sauce, too.

By the way. In case you noticed that I've chosen to drop the "e" from mandonline, I've seen it both ways (sometimes in the same product description) and I think every little bit counts in the attempt to take this kitchen gadget down a few pegs and bring it into the common kitchen. The professional grade metal monster is a "mandolineen", but the plastic thing from Amazon or Marshalls is your favorite slicer. Remember that.


  1. I really should start using one again. The last time I managed to shave a big ol' chunk of my thumb off. My pool game has never been the same...

  2. BSP,
    The speed and efficiency of the mandolin can inspire overconfidence. That's why most of them come with some sort of gizmo that holds the veg for you and protects your fingers. But, sometimes you have to risk it all when you get down to the nub of your tatter. But, do be careful.


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