A mandoline is a food slicer. Instead of moving a blade over the food, as you do with a knife, you move the food over a blade. It is a manual device, with no electricity required.
The essentials of a mandoline are a narrow raised board in which very sharp blades are held on a diagonal. As the food is sliced, it falls out underneath.
The board can be made of plastic or metal. People who like the metal ones say the plastic ones have too much flex in them. People who like the plastic ones say the metal ones rust. Some of the plastic ones are meant to be used horizontally. They have a plastic food-catcher container underneath, which also props them up. The metal ones have a stand on the back at one end to prop them up on a slope.
Some models have interchangeable blades. Some, like the Bron ones (sometimes marketed as Mouli in the US), have you change the configuration of the blade instead with a lever.
Advantages of a mandoline
A mandoline will give you more consistent slicing results than even someone very skilled with a chef’s knife can produce.
A mandoline will:
- make perfect looking garnishes;
- make onion rings;
- slice potatoes for scalloped potatoes;
- slice lemons,
- make ridged French fries;
- process large amounts of cabbage for sauerkraut or coleslaw.
Mandolines are not great for tomato slices.
They are not good for small jobs, such as slicing one onion — there is too much work involved in setting it up and too much clean-up afterward to justify it. If you’re doing a dozen onions, however, it can be worth it.
That being said, speaking specifically of onions, onions are actually a bit tricky on a mandoline owing to their layers: they are easier done in a V-Slicer.
Mandolines can be very expensive.
Mandoline pusher block
Most models come with a safety holder, sometimes called a “pusher block”, that you use to hold and guide the food with.
You put the holder on top of the food, and use it to slide the food back and forth. Some find it hard to get used to using the food holder, but it’s essential to get used to it: accidents are very common with mandolines. You can slice your finger tips off a few seconds before you’re aware that you no longer have a finger tip.
Some say that the safety holders are cumbersome, and don’t always hold large items well, restricting the size of the object you can slice. They say they practise safety by wearing a cut-resistant butcher’s glove, or gloves made of kevlar. Some wags retort that nothing short of a chain mail glove will make these machines safe. Many say to toss the last bit of vegetable away; that it’s not worth the chance of injury trying to get it sliced.
Our strong recommendation is to never use a mandoline without the food holder, not even for one or two quick passes.
Be just as wary of a mandoline’s blades when washing it up afterwards.
Mandolines require some practice to get up to speed on. As you slice, focus on the blade, not what you are slicing.