Transforming a few pounds of potatoes into thin, even rounds for a gratin or shaving paper-thin slices of raw fennel for a salad takes great knife skills, not to mention patience. The alternative? A mandoline. It easily turns fruits and vegetables into uniform slices or julienne sticks of almost any thickness and size with speed and precision. It’s safer to use than a handheld slicer because it has legs for added stability. And don’t forget the mandoline’s inimitable talent: crinkle and waffle cuts. Here are our favorites among the dozen we tested.
The Ultimate: De Buyer La Mandoline V Professionnelle
$190; Kitchenu.com (Update: This product no longer appears to be available. Visit De Buyer's web site for similar products).
Priced at the fantasy level, (but maybe you deserve it), this one’s for the cook who wants a top-of-the-line mandoline. The extremely sharp V-shaped blade slices smoothly and effortlessly, even with ripe tomatoes—the only mandoline we tested that can make that claim. It sits on its side at a comfortable 45-degree angle, has a large food pusher, and the insertion and removal of the slicing blades is intuitive and straightforward. The design of the stainless-steel pusher is a standout—it’s spring-loaded to maintain constant, even pressure on the food so you don’t have to. And it feels sturdy and natural as you move it. You can set up the handle for right- and left-hand use. Clear markings at the top of the mandoline help you gauge the thickness of your cut, and the crank that adjusts the thickness is easy to access and operate. This model also comes with lots of bells and whistles: a straight-slicing blade, a blade for crinkle and waffle cuts, and three julienne blades—4 mm (3/16 inch), 7 mm (1/4 inch), and 10 mm (2/3 inch), all easy to install. The V Professionnelle also comes with a demonstration DVD and a large hard-plastic travel case.
All-Around Champ: De Buyer La Mandoline Swing
Reasonably priced and user-friendly, this model is a great value for the money. The straight blades are razor-sharp and made for smooth slicing on almost everything except tomatoes and carrots. The spring-loaded pusher is easy to use and roomy enough to hold an average-size potato. This mandoline really excelled at crinkle and waffle cuts, but without measured markings you have to guess as you adjust for thickness. The Swing comes with a double-sided blade that’s straight on one side and serrated on the other (for crinkle and waffle cuts), and a double-sided julienne blade with 4 mm (3/16 inch) and 10 mm (2/3 inch) widths. It’s available in a variety of colors—orange, green, red, and black.
Best Buy: Oxo Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slicer
This plastic model with a surprisingly sharp V-blade is a solid entry-level mandoline. It can slice in thicknesses from 1/16 inch to 1/4 inch, create two widths of julienne cuts (1/8 inch and 1/4 inch), make crinkle cuts (but not waffle), and even dice (1/8 inch and 1/4 inch), a feature the other models do not have. The large pusher has an easy-to-grip shape that keeps your hand comfortably away from the blade. A color-coded dial makes it simple to set the thickness of a cut, but there are only four thickness settings. As a result, the French fries we made with this model were pretty thin. The blades store neatly under the unit.
How it works:
• A mandoline consists of an angled “runway” with a sharp blade mounted across the middle. The top half of the runway adjusts in height to vary the thickness of your cuts. The bottom half doesn’t move.
• Most mandolines feature “pushers” with protective hand guards to hold the food in place as it slides down the runway and across the blade. The sliced food falls underneath.
• For julienne slices, mount an additional blade with teeth in front of the straight blade.
• For crinkle cuts, replace the straight blade with a wavy, serrated blade.
• For waffle or lattice cuts, use the crinkle-cut blade to make the first (very thin) cut, then slide the pusher—with food attached—back up to the top, rotate it a quarter turn, and slide it down the runway again.
To buy or not to buy?
Do you really need a mandoline? Let’s just say it comes in handy when making lots of thin, even slices or julienne cuts for any of these preparations (to name a few):
• Caramelized onions
• Gratins (potato, root vegetable, squash)
• Planks of zucchini, summer squash, or eggplant
• Fruit tarts
• French fries (crinkle, waffle cut, or straight)
• Shaved fennel, radish, apple, or hard cheeses for salads
• Onion rings
• Pickled vegetables
• Cole slaw
• Cucumber salad
• Vegetable stir-fries