12/Fri/11 - 08:20 Filed in: Gear | Prep Tool | Review
This blog will talk about mandoline slicers in general and the one I use specifically. I’ve owned my mandoline for 8 years now and frankly it has turned out to be a better investment than I imagined. I’ve used it more than I’ve expected, it has performed better than I’ve expected and it really has helped speed up my prep tasks. You also must take into account safety issues since the mandoline doesn’t care if it is your finger or a carrot that goes past it’s blade.
What is a Mandoline:? A mandoline slicer allows food to be slid along two platforms that are mounted in parallel. The platform the food starts out on is lower than the second platform which holds the blade. The food is captured in some sort of sliding food chute and it is slid down the platform into the blade producing slices of uniform thickness. The height of the food platform is adjustable in some manner to produce various thickness cuts. The two common ways of adjusting the platform is to have various inserts that raise or lower the platform, or an adjustment knob that raises or lowers the platform. The typical mandoline will do straight cuts or julienne cuts. The blades are generally fixed to the higher platform, but some models do have replaceable blades. Replaceable blades allow you to make more elaborate cuts like crinkle cuts.
There are 3 typical blade profiles: a straight horizontal profile, a straight blade that is turned at an angle like a guillotine and a v-shaped blade. In theory a blade at angle makes for an easier cut, but the quality and sharpness of the blade will come into play here. These blades are VERY sharp. You should evaluate any model you are thinking of buying with it’s safety features at the top of the list. Mandolines these days are typically made out of two materials: plastic or stainless steel. The stainless steel models tend to be at the high end of the price list. There are compact mandolines that tend to be one trick ponies in the type of slice they do, that start at around $10.00. They are very simplistic and tend to be short on safety features and instead rely on you being careful at all times. At the other end of the spectrum are large stainless steel models with interchangeable blades to do fancy crinkle cuts in addition to the standard cuts. They do have bigger and presumably sharper and better blades too. The expensive models can cost in the hundreds of dollars.
The mandoline slicer I bought was made by Zylss, a company with roots in Switzerland. The model I have is called the Zylss Easy Slice Mandoline Safety Rail Guided Slicer. That mouthful is usually shortened to Zylss Easy Slice Mandoline. It retails for around $50 and is typically found at mid-level Kitchen stores. At the time I bought it, I figured I was getting a below average cheapie. After all you could pay $300 or more for a mandoline. I wanted something better than the real cheap $10 models. I also wanted the flexibility to do several thicknesses of straight and julienne cuts and I wanted something safe. At the time this was all I could afford. The fancy stainless steel models were way out of my price range and I really didn’t know how much use I would get out of a mandoline. My thinking has changed quite a bit over the years as I have used the Zylss mandoline. It is far better than I first imagined. Is it the best mandoline out there? No. But at the $50.00 price point I think I did well. Back in 2003 I deducted points because the unit is was plastic, not stainless steel. Actually I now think the plastic is a plus after seeing how easily some of the so-called stainless steel from China rusts. Plus stainless steel is much more costly than plastic and I’d rather have the unit be made out of a good sturdy plastic and put the money saved into a good quality blade and safety features. The other item I deducted points for was having inserts to adjust the cutting thickness vs. and adjustable platform. I’ve come around on that one too. Sometimes the simplest solution is the better solution. The adjustment mechanism probably costs more to make than the plastic inserts, is prone to mechanical failure at some point and probably would rust if you put the mandoline in the dishwasher. Next I will describe the Zyliss mandoline including some of the features and why I like or dislike them. Perhaps this might be helpful if you are evaluating other mandolines.
Main Body: The main body of the mandoline is a sloped platform with a v-shaped blade in the middle. Along the long ends are rails. The rails serve to guide the feed chute and also help keep the insert plates in place. There are two feet under the low end of the platform which are intended to rest on the counter. The feet are rubber coated to prevent slippage. Just behind the feet are notches in the frame intended for use if you want to rest the mandoline on the lip of a bowl which will catch the cup pieces. Underneath the high end of the platform is a handle that can be gripped either palm up or palm down when you are using the slicer. I often just leave the unit on the counter to slice foods. As a leftie one of the of the big advantages this model was it can be used either left handed or right handed. It has a symmetrical design and the dual rails allow you to use it with either hand any way you want. At the top of the sloped platform you will find a raises round blue button. This is used to add or remove one of the 6 shims that adjust the type and thickness of cut. Pushing the button down until it is flush with the surface of the platform allows you to slide out the shim. When you slide a shim in this button pops up when a similarly sized hole in the shim passes over the button. The inserts are gripped by groves in the side of the guide rails and the spring loaded blue button locks the shim in place.
The bottom feet are rubberized to afford a good grip. Just behind the feet is a notch to help grip the top lip of a bowl.
The feed chute is made of clear plastic. It has a hinge on one side. On the other side of the hinge is a white plastic guide that slides and locks onto onto the rail and holds the feed chute securely. Because there is a rail on either side, the feed chute can go on either side allowing you to push it towards the blade with the base turned in either direction. This is a really important feature for me. For most operations I have far better control with my left hand than my right. This means I can operate the unit far more safely with my left hand. The feed chute is a large diamond shaped chute with rounded corners. The feed chute will hold all but the largest potatoes. The intent with the diamond shape and having a corner facing the blade is so you can hold a carrot vertically up against the front corner for slicing. The shape of the carrot fits nicely in this rounded corner. The feed chute’s base is flared out all around the base on the outside. This serves to keep your fingers from accidentally coming in contact with the blade while you are gripping the top of the feed chute.
The bottom of the feed chute has spikes to allow the feed chute to be tilted up to clamp oversized items.
The reason the feed chute doesn’t have rail clamps on both sides and is actually hinged isn’t obvious until you read the directions. It turns out the bottom of the feed chute has spikes to help hold the food too. If you get a piece of food that is a little too big to fit in the feed chute, you can tilt the feed chute up and still get a safe grip on the food. Another use for tilting the feed chute would be a cucumber where you are doing lengthwise cuts. You would tilt the feed chute up and the spikes on the bottom of the feed chute assembly will hold the cucumber in place. This is a nice safety feature and some mandolines simply lack provisions for over-sized items.
Food Guide: The food guide is a diamond-shaped white plastic piece that fits inside the feed chute and serves to push the food down as well as secure it as you slice. The end of the guide that contacts the food has spikes on it to help keep the food from moving within the feed chute. The top of the food guide has a slightly oversized cap with a half-round edge that serves two purposes. First is gives you something to wrap your fingers around to help hold the food guide. Second It also to prevent the feed chute from slipping down too far into the chute. I sometimes use the food guide by itself to handle real big items, but you must be careful not to go one slice too many or you will be slicing the spikes on the feed chute.
The bottom side of the food guide has spikes on it to help secure the food.
Slicing Shims: The slicing shims are plastic plates of varying thickness that allow you to do various thickness slices. The shims have a pointed end that rests near the v-shaped blades. There is a hole in the shim that locks the shim in place via the spring-loaded blue button on the main body. The shims for doing julienne cuts have vertical metal blades coming up out of the plastic plate which make the second cut. The shims allow you to make 1/8” (3.5mm) and 1/4” (7mm) julienne cuts and 1/32” (0.75mm), 1/16” (1.5mm), 1/8” (3.5mm) and 1/4” (7mm) straight cuts.
The shim plates are marked with the type of cut (julienne shown here) and the thickness (left). The symbol also represents the thickness of the cut. The symbols can be easily seen from the end even when the plates are in the caddy (right).
The base plates are all marked on one end with a symbol and lettering showing the type of cut (straight or julienne) and the thickness of cut. One of my few dislikes of this unit is the cut thickness is marked in millimeters and not inches. This is certainly not a deal breaker and I can get by looking at the symbol that shows the actual cut thickness. The end of the shim with the size markings is rounded down and the markings are visible from both the top and the end. Being visible from the end is handy when the 5 shims are all stacked in the storage caddy. The 1/4” (7mm) straight cut shim is intended to be left in place on the mandoline when the unit is in storage. This shim is a little longer than the others and it extends below the underside of the blade. This blade is also made so it won’t easily slide all the way into the storage caddy. The intent here being this will remind you to store the unit with the extra long 1/4” (7mm) straight blade on the main body. If you do a double cut with the julienne blades you can do a dice. You do the first julienne cut and then do a second cut with the julienned slices turned 90 degrees.
Storage Caddy: The storage caddy is made of translucent plastic and has slots for 5 of the 6 slicing shims. As I mentioned earlier the 6th shim, the 1/4” (7mm) straight slicing shim, is kept on the mandoline and serves to protect the underside of the blade when the unit is in storage. The storage caddy has rail clamps on both sides that allow it to slide on the mandoline. The storage caddy covers the top 2/3 of the mandoline and serves to cover the blade from the top side. There is also a plastic blade guard that slides over the top side of the blade. But I always worried about cutting myself taking the guard on and off so I don’t use it. The only time I have the caddy off the unit is when I am actually using it and I know enough to keep my hands away from the blade. The shims can only slide into the caddy one way, and they snap and lock into place when they are all the way in the caddy. The size of the slicing shim and it’s type of cut can be read from the end of the shim without having to remove the blade from the caddy. This is one of the nice touches that show the amount of thought that went into designing this mandoline slicer.
Using the Mandoline: To use the mandoline you remove the caddy from the mandoline and remove the 1/4” (7mm) straight shim from the mandoline-unless that is the size slice you need . Next you select the proper slicing shim from the caddy and slide it in place until the blue button snaps up and locks the shim into place. You slide the feed chute and food guide up to the upper half of the mandoline above the blade. You remove the food guide and place the food in the feed chute. The food should be pushed forward in the chute closer to the blade if it doesn’t completely fill the chute. If the food is shorter than the height of the chute, you put the food guide back in and push down on it to secure the food. If the food is taller than the feed chute you hold it up against the front of the feed chute from above. You want to keep your fingers out of the feed chute. Once the food has been reduced in height, you stop and insert the food guide to help finish the slicing. When the food is in place you leave the rubber coated lower legs in contact with the counter or set the notch behind the leg on the lip of a large bow. You lift up the mandoline to a comfortable angle with your other hand. You can grip this upper handle either palm up or palm down. I do things slightly differently. I don’t use a bowl to catch the sliced food. I put a 12” (30.5 cm) plate under the mandoline and leave it sitting on the counter. I hold the handle in place by placing the palm of my right hand on the counter with my fingers gripping the handle. I guide the feed chute with my left hand. As I mentioned: The Zyliss mandoline is set up so you can do every operation with either hand. I have better strength and dexterity with my left hand so that is the one I use to guide the feed chute.
The handle can be gripped palm up or palm down.
Then you start sliding the feed chute and food guide somewhat briskly down the rails of the mandoline to slice the food. You must also keep some downward pressure on the food guide. When the food is completely past the blade you stop and briskly bring the feed chute and food guide back up to the top of the mandoline and start up process over again. You cut the food in a fairly rapid series of strokes from side to side, bringing the feed chute up and down the sloped mandoline platform. The food guide is made so it won’t come in contact with the blade when the last of the food is cut. When the last piece of food is sliced you are done. There may be a small piece of food left in the feed chute which is too thin to be held in place with the food guide and therefor won’t cut. Simply remove it and insert the next piece of food. If the food is slightly larger than the feed chute, the chute itself can be tilted up at an angle and there are spikes underneath it to hold the food in place. In this case you do not need the food guide to hold the food, the underside of the tilted feed chute is doing this job. This is where the flared out base of the feed chute serves to protect your fingers.
The feed chute is tilted up so the spikes in the bottom of the feed chute are holding down a piece of jicama that is too big to fit in the feed chute.
The last usage case is when you have something like an extra large baked potato that you are cutting in either direction. If I am cutting it crosswise I will cut the very ends off then I cut it in half or in thirds first to get a piece I can hold safely with the food guide only. You want a piece that is not too tall and is not in danger of tipping over as you slide it. You push down with the food guide hard enough to hold the food securely and slide the food and the food guide up and down the mandoline to slice it. You need to be very careful not to tilt the food guide while slicing the food. The bottom of the food guide must be kept parallel to the mandoline at all times. You must also not try to take one slice too many or you may end up slicing the spikes on the bottom of of the feed chute. To cut a potato lengthwise into planks, I slice the potato in half to give me a flat surface to place on the mandoline. Then I use the feed chute, placed on the highest part of the potato, to guide the potato back and forth. Once again remember not to try to get one slice too many.
When you are done slicing, the mandoline gets disassembled and all pieces can go on the top rack of the dishwasher. Zyliss does recommend you hand wash the mandoline base with the blade. It is said to be dishwasher safe, but they say the blade can be corroded over time by the harsh environment of the dishwasher. I bought my mandoline in 2003, when stainless steel was actually stainless. A few years later the price of steel shot up and some manufacturers began to use inferior grades of steel to help keep the price down. I am not saying Zyliss may have done this, but I am saying I just don’t know. If I bought a mandoline now, I would have to rethink my decision about putting the base in the dishwasher. Where the majority of the mandoline is made of a glossy plastic, I have never had problems with cleanup. The manual mentions certain foods like tomatoes may result in hard to remove stains. I’ve never had to do anything special, but the manual says you can add some lemon juice to some dish soap and water and hand wash the item.
The unit is stored with the 1/4” straight cut blade in place. It is a little longer than the other shims. When in place on the mandoline base it covers the bottom side of the blade.
When the parts are out of the dishwasher the unit gets reassembled. The 1/4” (7mm) slicing shim is inserted into the mandoline. The feed chute and food guide are nested and slide back onto the mandoline. The blades are returned to the blade caddy and the blade caddy is placed onto the upper half of the mandoline. I still have the original box and I return the mandoline to the box for storage. Regardless of whether you hand wash or dish wash the the mandoline base be very very careful around the blade. The only serious injury I’ve ever received using the mandoline was a cut I received when removing the mandoline from the top shelf of the dishwasher. I wasn’t paying close attention while I removed the base from the dishwasher. As I was pulling the mandoline base out part of it caught on the top shelf. The mandoline stopped moving but my hand didn’t. One of my fingers went across the blade and a deep serious cut resulted. The blade is so sharp I wasn’t even aware of what was happening. The lesson to be taken here is when using a tool with a sharp blade like a mandoline, always give what you are doing your full and complete attention.
Other: I haven’t had too many problems with the Zyliss mandoline except for my dishwasher incident. The blade is VERY sharp and has stayed that way over 8 years of use. I was very surprised and impressed when I was able to easily slice some smoked onion this past summer. The onions needed to be thin sliced for onion soup. When the onion came off the smoker and had cooled, they were very soft and mushy. I wanted to use the mandoline on them, but I was afraid the soft onions would be torn and shredded. To my great surprise the mandoline made quick work of slicing the onions, no mush, no fuss, no bother. Now the mandoline easily slices tomatoes which can be soft, but these smoked onions were far softer than any tomato.
The only time I have had trouble slicing anything is when the items are very, very hard, such as hard meats like chorizzo or keilbassa. These real hard items will sometimes jam and tear when trying to slice them in the Zyliss. In all fairness these items are hard to cut thinly with my very sharp Wusthof knives. Keep your fingers away from the blades when trying to clear any jam. I use a popsicle stick to free the food stuck in the blade. Other than really hard foods, the Zyliss had been up to anything else I’ve thrown at it.
A mandoline slicer is a valuable addition to your Kitchen. It can turn out piles of uniformly sliced food in short order. I happen to like my Zyliss mandoline, and it has served me well for 8 years now. I covered it in this blog so that you could see some of the features it had. Particularly the safety features. In my opinion he cheapest mandolines are not worth buying. The two key items with a mandoline are the safety features and the quality of the blade. A $15 small mandoline can’t have a great blade and it is going to be fairly basic and lacking in safety features. I have been using my mandoline for 8 years now and it is still working and I have all my fingers. So when you are evaluating mandolines pay careful attention to the safety features. That is why I went into the Zyliss in such depth-so that you could see how they dealt with various safety issues. Look closely at any mandoline you are considering. Think about how this particular model is used and look to see if they have taken adequate measure to keep your fingers safe. If possible try to find a video on the web of the unit in action. These can sometimes be found on the manufacturers’s or the retailer’s web site. Visit web sites that have either professional or user reviews of the unit. Spending a little more time and possibly a little more money is going to help you find a unit that works well, lasts a long time and keeps you safe.
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