This past summer I fell in love with a kitchen gadget that has been relatively slow to catch on in the U.S. the mandoline.
Ive had several of these kicking around my kitchen for a while now, but I never quite saw the need for them. For those not in the know, a mandoline is shaped like a plank with a very thin, very sharp blade at the far end. To use it, you slide a firm vegetable back and forth along the plank. Each time you slide over the blade, it shaves a slice off the vegetable.
Many models are adjustable, allowing you to quickly and easily create slices ranging from 1/4 inch to paper thin. Which is nice, but so what? I have good knives and a good food processor, both of which slice nicely.
Except the mandoline isnt simply a manual food processor, and it is so much more precise than a knife. Food processors usually are too robust to produce ultrathin slices. And knives at least in most home cooks hands (including my own) simply cant produce consistent results.
I discovered the difference this summer when on a whim I decided I wanted thinly shaved garlic in a salad. I used a knife on the first clove and didnt get even close to what I wanted. A processor was out of the question for something so small. So I grabbed the mandoline and carefully rubbed the clove back and forth over the blade. In seconds Id reduced it to thin shavings that perfectly flavored my salad.
Next time, I shaved the vegetables themselves for the salad. No longer were celery and carrots large hunks to be endured. When thinly shaved by the mandoline, they took on an elegant, fresh taste and texture. And as summer turned to fall, I switched from salads to root vegetables. Paper-thin slices of potatoes, butternut squash, onions and sweet potatoes became delicate and sweet when piled into a pan and roasted.
I am hooked. So as I contemplated a fresh approach to breaded and baked haddock, I turned again to the mandoline to render a potato fit for pairing with the fish. In any other form, potatoes would be too robust for a delicate baked fish. But shaved paper thin, then wrapped around the fish, the potato slices become a deliciously crisp edible wrapper.
Just one caution there is a reason mandolines come with a hand guard for holding the vegetables while slicing. They are extremely sharp and its easy to cut yourself.