Why the Mandoline Is a Must-Have Kitchen Tool
"How did they make everything look so perfect?" If you've ever asked yourself this question while marveling at the beauty of a restaurant meal or gazing at fruit tartlets in a patisserie window—or just scrolling Instagram, for that matter—you're about to discover (part of) the answer: the chef in question used a mandoline.
This must-have kitchen tool for the serious home cook can slice and julienne foods with a precision and delicacy that simply can't be matched by a knife or even a food processor. Slice perfect potato chips, create paper-thin vegetable ribbons, make flawless French fries and waffle fries, prep all kinds of pickles, serve up gratins galore, and bake Instagram-worthy tarts, pies, and galettes.
What Kind of Mandoline Should You Buy?
There are two common styles to choose from: a lightweight version known as a Japanese—or handheld—mandoline, and a more heavy-duty, freestanding model sometimes called a chef's mandoline. Their basic functions are the same: Each holds a sharp blade in place on a stable surface while you move the food back and forth over the blade (in contrast to using a knife or a food processor, where the blade moves and the food stays still).
Japanese mandolines are smaller (which means they're easier to store) and more affordable; chef's mandolines are sturdier and usually come with a larger variety of blades. Which one you choose depends on your budget and your kitchen space, as well as how much cooking you do.
Mandoline Safety Tips
If you know people who like to cook, you've probably heard at least one story of a fingertip's unfortunate encounter with a mandoline blade. It's no joke—these tools are sharp! If you want to keep your fingers safe, remember that this is not the time to show off. All mandolines come with a hand guard that's meant to grip the food so your fingers can never encounter the blade. Use it! And take good care of your blade so it stays sharp and doesn't rust. A sharp blade is safer to use, since you don't need to use as much pressure to get the job done.
Set up the mandoline so you are always pushing away from your body, not sideways, and not towards yourself. You have the most control this way, and from this angle you can always see the blade. If you have a hard time moving the food back and forth over the blade, don't push harder—instead, grease the wheels (so to speak) by spritzing the food and the surface of the mandoline with water to decrease the friction. If it's compatible with your recipe, you could even use olive oil or vegetable oil for easy gliding.
Superior Slicing, Shaving, and More
Once you master the mandolin, you'll find there are so many ways to use it to make meal prep more streamlined, slices more even, and desserts more spectacular. Beyond fries and chips, some of our favorite recipes for getting the most mileage out of your mandoline are for pickles, slaw, and shaved vegetable salads (so elegant!). You can also use it for dessert. When you want to make apples look like roses, you need a mandoline. To slice strawberries with military precision, or to get even slices of plum for a tart, use a mandoline. It's also the tool for perfect curls of carrot to top your favorite hummingbird cake.