Friend of The Food Geek, Cindy, asks:
What’s the best way (or best tool to use) to cut a sweet potato into fries? I’ve tried using a knife (HUGE pain) and I’ve tried using a combination of an apple slicer/corer and a knife (slightly less of a HUGE pain). I’ve looked on amazon for a french fry cutter – obviously the all metal variety will work better, but is there anything specific you’d recommend?
If you were opening up a restaurant, and you were planning on making french fries that you cut on-site, then I would probably suggest something like a french fry cutter. They’re pretty efficient at what they do, and that don’t take any particular skill to do them. Similarly, if you were planning on making these fries every day, possibly twice a day, then I could see the use.
The problem with a french fry cutter is that the only thing you can do with it is cut french fries, or thing in that exact shape. When you’re not using it, it does nothing but take up space, so you really have to cut sweet potatoes a lot in order to use it.
Of course, if you’re using it all the time, you’d have to get a really good one, because you’re forcing the potatoes through all at once, which puts a decent amount of stress on that particular gadget. A french fry cutter is basically a sharp grate and a lever. You push down on the lever, and it shoves the potato through the grate, like making hair or spaghetti with Play-Doh® or similar. But potatoes are harder than properly stored children’s clay, so you need something sturdy to handle all of that.
For all around unlimited usefulness, the chef’s knife is ideal. However, if you haven’t been through culinary school, professional cheffery, or something similar that caused you to get your knife skills to a good and fast place, then it’s going to be a pain. As you’ve discovered.
There is a middle-ground, though. It’s a device called a mandoline, and it’s not a musical instrument. It is basically a razor mounted on a board with a gap of a specific size set in it. Slide something across it one way, and a perfectly formed slice appears below the mandoline. Slide it the other way, and it just lines up for another run. Simple and efficient. With a little practice, you could slice a potato in seconds. With a chance of the blade into one for a julienne cut, and you’ve got friench fries with no additional effort.
The important thing with a mandoline is to never use it without a hand guard or cut-resistant gloves. Because it’s really fast and really easy to do, you can easily stop paying attention when the potato is gone and get a slice of finger instead. It happens all the time, but is easily prevented. See this picture?
Don’t do that. Use the guard. It’ll slow you down a bit, but fingertips take a while to grow back.
The mandoline doesn’t suffer from the stresses of the potato cutter, because it doesn’t shove the potato through all at once, it does it slice at a time. Much easier to do. Plus, there are plenty of instances where you want a thinly-sliced vegetable, and the mandoline is just as quick to do that as it is to make french fries. Plently of uses.
Not quite easy enough? If you have a food processor with a feeding tube large enough to fit a potato, then you could get a disc for that which does julienne cuts as well. Chances are your fries will be a bit shorter due to the logistics of how you have to angle the potato vs. the cutting disc, but it’ll be really, really fast. This may work better on regular potatoes than sweet potatoes, though, so you might want to verify before you buy it.
Don't use your mandoline like this. Always use the guard, or a cut-resistant glove. Unless you are not fond of your fingertips.