Long before we started this site, Barrett started a campaign (ouch sorry, find another word) to convince me that a mandolin is a thing of beauty, time saver and chef's best friend. Every time I wrote him and mentioned slicing off another fingertip (good thing they regenerate, eh?) he would laud the virtues of a mandolin: you get evenly sliced vegetables, no danger of cutting yourself, easy to clean...he should be on late night TV selling these things. Bit by bit, slice by slice, I started to believe him. While I chopped two kilos of vegetables for my latest stir fry or chicken stew, I thought, "This would be SO much easier if I only had a mandolin." And rather than wait for Christmas and ask for one, I recently decided to take the plunge and buy myself the energy-saving best non-electric safety gadget in the world. I even went for the top of the line: Zyliss.
I brought it home and took it out of its box to gloat over it. It was white and gleaming and Swiss and efficient looking. I flicked through the pictorial instructions...looks fairly simple...time to clean it and try this baby out! Struggling with the protective cardboard taped over the blade, I cut my finger.
Okay, so that was ironic. Stupid. But ironic. Cursing loudly, I ran to the bathroom for a band-aid. (Sometimes it occurs to me that it would be wise to move the box of bandaids, like the aloe vera gel, to the kitchen.)
I washed the blood off the mandolin and decided to give it another try. What to make for my first foray into the wonders of mandolin-slicing? I had thought about making a variation of a gratin dauphinois for the Is My Blog Burning? Terrine Edition. Potatoes are always a pain to slice exactly the right width and the same for each slice. I peeled my potatoes and inserted the first one in the feeder. Barrett had already warned me that the magic avoiding-slicing-fingers properties of the mandolin rely on your always using the feeder. The top of the feeder didn't really hold the potato in place and the feeder itself was somewhat difficult to hook under the edge of the mandolin but I gamely tried shoving the potato across the blade...the feeder slid off the mandolin the potato went spinning and...my finger fell down in the path of the blade and there I was bleeding and cursing again.
Safe. Yeah, right. As safe as a cat in a blender.
I cleaned myself up (again) and looked at the issue logically. The easiest way to deal with the slippery potatoes was to cut them in half, thus giving them a solid edge to apply pressure to, and making the holder a little easier to manage.
And it did work, eventually. There is a technique to using the mandolin and I have no doubt that after using it a few times I'll be the vegetable-slicing whiz that Barrett promised. You need to be firm with it, holding the vegetables firmly in the feeder and sliding it across the blade with confidence but not too quickly. Starting with potatoes was probably not wise as they are harder and more slippery than other vegetables. When I used it to make a sliced cucumber and tomato salad to accompany the potato terrine, it worked much better. Or I worked it much better, if you want to be exact.
As for the specific mandolin I bought, I'm still very happy with the Zyliss model. It comes with six inserts allowing you to vary the width of the slices and make two different sizes of juilenne sticks. Ooh! There is a handy plastic holder that fits on the mandolin when you are not using it, so the whole thing stores very neatly. It's easier to clean by hand than the food processor and the feeder is wide enough (which it isn't on the food processor). So I'm not sorry I bought the new cool tool, but it seems to me that it's not as simle as advertised by Barrett-the-late-night-TV-salesman. And it is possible (if you are super talented) to slice your finger in new and more interesting places with it!