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September 8, 2004

World's Best Mandoline

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Renee Schettler, in today's Washington Post Food section, reports on the results of her three-year-long search for the world's finest mandoline.

Not only was her choice - the Oxo, available here for $70, the finest one; she goes so far as to call it "the perfect mandoline."

Here're her two complementary stories, the first an overview of mandolines - what they are and what they do in the kitchen, the second an exhaustive review of the many she tested before arriving at the apotheosis of this kitchen tool.
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Part 1: There Is a Perfect Mandoline

There are three types of cooks: those who own a mandoline, those who covet their neighbor's mandoline and those who think that a mandoline is a string instrument (that word is spelled mandolin).

A mandoline is a manual countertop contraption that can slice, julienne, shred, crinkle or waffle-cut large quantities in a relatively short amount of time.

It is, arguably, nonessential kitchen equipment - unless you're the type who prefers hands-on precision, can appreciate a perfect julienne of green papaya, craves cabbage shredded just so for slaw, envies a perfectly French-cut fry or waffle-cut chip, catches his breath at the almost-diaphanous cast of a cucumber shaved lengthwise, or who simply slices a lot of potatoes and apples for gratins and tartes Tatin.

If your heart just skipped a beat, you really ought to consider one.

But which one?

Mandolines come in dozens of versions, from $19 plastic gizmos good only for infrequent use to imposing stainless-steel slicers that go for $190.

Each consists of a similar setup: There are adjustable and interchangeable blades that allow for slices varying from paper-thin to up to half an inch thick (as well as additional blades that can be used to julienne, waffle cut and to shred); a runway or path along which the ingredient is pushed against the blades; and a pusher-cum-safety guard of some sort that holds the food in place, protects fingertips from the razor-sharp blade and prevents the undertaking from turning into a B-rated horror flick.

Three years ago, I set out to give a few mandolines a test drive with a couple of pounds of potatoes, hoping to find the mandoline most likely to make my life easier and least likely to endanger my already scarred hands.

A lot of cursing, dangerously difficult-to-adjust blades and mangled heaps of vegetables later, I can tell you that the distinctions between mandolines are significant and that each model has special drawbacks. Except for one.


Tips and Techniques

• When in doubt, consult the instruction manual.

• Many mandolines can be placed directly on top of a bowl rather than on the counter to catch the food as it falls.

• To ensure stability, place the mandoline or the bowl upon which it rests on a damp towel.

• Do not attempt to slice the last nubbin of fruit or vegetable. Slice it by hand, nibble it or toss it in the trash. It's not worth the extra Band-Aids.
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Part 2: Many Mandolines Later...

Selecting a mandoline is a lot like beginning a new relationship: Before you can know what makes a suitable match, you have to know yourself.

There are several crucial questions to ask: What type of slicing will I be doing? How much am I willing to spend? How often will I really use it? (Be honest.)

The answers will help determine which type of mandoline is best for you.

The ones I tested are listed here in three categories - small, medium and large, with corresponding price tags.

And then there's one mandoline that was so impressive - the Oxo - that it deserved a category of its own.

To understand why the Oxo is so right, you have to grasp what is less than ideal about all the others:


SMALL and GOOD FOR SLICING

These small, flat, inexpensive plastic mandolines do an adequate job of slicing. The not-so-sharp blades tend to falter at the julienne and other fancy cuts and, when not in use, they slide around dangerously in the junk drawer. But if you just want to slice potatoes and apples, this is your machine.

There are a number of unwieldy models with blades molded into pieces of plastic - also known as V-slicers - that snap into place with some difficulty and create a higher propensity for injury.

I prefer the Super Benriner, a pastel-colored model with a runway wide enough to accommodate a (small) halved cabbage or a jicama. It's lightweight, thin and stores easily in a drawer.

The thickness is adjusted by turning an awkwardly situated, tight-fitting screw.

The blades are a pain to change, so stick with simple slicing. About $19.


MEDIUM and MEDIOCRE

Medium-size mandolines have more bells and whistles than the small ones and take up less counter space than the big boys.

The Oxo model fits into this category.

Hoffritz took a unique and clever approach and mounted the mandoline on the lid of a metal bowl that snaps into place.

The lid has handles to grasp for support while you're slicing and the food falls into the bowl.

The bowl tends to slide around, and it takes up plenty of cabinet space.

But the model's interchangeable blades, attached to plastic pieces, snap into place with ease. ($69.99 but often on sale for as little as $19.99, at amazon.com).

Matfer makes a fiberglass model that is unimpressive at any price but is particularly insulting at $140.

The pusher-cum-safety guard is inadequately shaped and doesn't stay on track.

The blades are dangerously difficult to change.

The whole thing is pretty unstable.

Several other Matfer models exist, but I was too irked to try them.


LARGE and CUMBERSOME

These large, seemingly treacherous slicers are traditional European-style mandolines geared toward professional kitchens.

For years, the standard was a stainless-steel model designed by de Buyer for Williams-Sonoma.

It offers collapsible legs, a pusher and safety guard that tracks along the length of the mandoline - and pretty much stays on track.

It also has easily interchangeable blades, obvious markings that identify the exact thickness of each corresponding blade and a straightforward, though slightly cumbersome, means of changing the thicknesses.

Comes with a detailed instruction manual.

The only hangup is its $185 price tag.

There is a similar but less user-friendly model made by Bron ($179.95).


THE PERFECT MANDOLINE

Oxo, which initially gained a large customer base with its ergonomically correct vegetable peeler, is known for improving upon the designs of common kitchen tools. And so the Manhattan-based company has struck again.

The Oxo Good Grips Mandoline, which was more than three years in development, seems to have plucked the best stylistic design component from a few of the other noteworthy mandolines and then devised a few nifty tricks all its own to form a composite miracle mandoline.

The smartest innovation is that the most commonly used blades can be turned with the twist of a knob instead of being manually removed and inserted.

But, less obviously, the Oxo design is more stable, with its low profile and splayed legs with nonslip feet.

The blades that are not in use are covered, which helps prevent mishaps for hands in a hurry.

The safety guard-pusher is free-standing and thus easy to use on any ingredient, not just the slender ones.

The waffle-cut blade is not relegated to the bottom of the mandoline, as is the case with many models. $70.

Available at Williams-Sonoma; call 877-812-6235 or see www.williams-sonoma.com.

September 8, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink


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Comments

Friends,
Has anyone had the opportunity to try the new OXO V-Slicer? I am not referring to the black plastic mandoline from OXO, but a new model. I saw this at "That Kitchen Shop" at Seattle's Northgate mall. It has dial adjustable thickness, blades cleverly and safely stored onboard.
Thank you.
mike

Posted by: miketoyo | Sep 7, 2007 8:32:19 PM

You seemed to write off the plastic models, but one of the BEST mandolines out there is the Swissmar Borner V slicer. It has a special V shaped blade that makes instant mince-meat of every veggie, hard to (relatively) soft. It is german engineering, so you get razor sharp blades that have seemed to hold an edge for all the potatoes, peppers I have pushed through it. It also has a few different blades molded into plastic to allow for different cuts, as you say.

But, statistics are a safe bet. Check the OXO mandoline's user ratings on amazon, and compare to the Swissmar Borner:

Swissmar Borner V: $30 175! customer reviews: average rating 4.5/5. I'd agree with this. My only complaint is that it is not dishwasher friendly. Outside of this, it is perfect.

Oxo Good Grips Mandoline: $70 47 customer reviews, average review 2.5/5.

I think that speaks for itself. Give it a try and see what you think. The magic is in the V shaped blade, which makes such easy fast work of veggies.

Posted by: Beef | Sep 1, 2007 5:38:34 PM

I am a chef and have used mandolines for many years. I hated the holders that came with the device (used to hold the items going through the mandoline). They were akward and never held anything very well (especially round items). So I simply held the vegies by hand and sliced away. Needless to say, I have sliced many a knuckle and finger in the medieval machine. Then I bought a kevlar glove (designed originally for butchers to protect hands while slicing meats). Now I use my mandoline with reckless abandon and no more sliced knuckle salads! It also offers great protection when shucking oysters. $29 at ChefDepot.com.

Posted by: Rick | Sep 9, 2004 11:34:15 AM

I have one of these Oxo Mandolines and it is a fun tool, especially preparing raw salads for my vegan food party dishes .

The blades come with their own lock-tight plastic container so you keep 'em safe from those precious fingertips.

I was lucky and found a new one at Goodwill Thrift store for $9.99.

It's nice to know this is considered the best!

I feel lucky I have one.

I like the cut you can make alternating the waffle cut at 90 degrees; gives that perforated look.

This machine treats vegetables with the care they deserve plus it's a tool that, when needed, comes up to play without much bother.

Thanks for the kitchen tool review. I'm a foodie so I like 'em.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 8, 2004 4:07:50 PM

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