The other day, I watched Iron Chef Morimoto
cut a potato
. He turned the potato in his left hand and with a razor-sharp chef’s knife, cut around it, producing a paper-thin ribbon, a continuous strip of potato about the length of my arm. He then rolled it and cut it into a chiffonade
, finely cut strips, to use as a delicate garnish
. And he did all of this in perhaps 20 seconds.
The only way I could do that would be to use a mandolin (sometimes spelled “mandoline”), a manual food processor for vegetables.
There are a number of different kinds of mandolin, suitable to different purposes. Asian cooks have long been using continuous strands of vegetables in cooking as they cook more quickly, producing tender, flavourful vegetables for use in stir frying or making soups. And, of course, you can make beautiful garnishes with them. To this end, the Benriner Turning Slicer is top of the line and the most versatile. The Joyce Chen is practical for continuous slicing or thin strands.
However, if you've never used one before, you might want to try one first. My first mandolin was one purchased in Chinatown for less than $15.00. It was made of plastic, had three blades, and it was fine until I began to envision a greater range of options. Moha makes a six-piece starter set that has a container to catch the slices and strands, if you want to use it.
If you like very thin matchstick slices and don't care about continuous strands, the Benriner is more versatile with 3 settings. The Borner has a fixed setting and comes with a separate waffle cutter.
Professional chefs tend to choose the traditional Bron Professional, now available in Stainless Steel because it is more versatile than any other. It's also a little more difficult to operate, but once you get used to it, it's wonderful. Another would be the Matfer, which combines stainless steel and plastic, is easier to operate and dishwasher safe. The Bron Gourmet is easy to operate, but it doesn't come with a stand so you have to hold it like a grater.
Most of these come with a food guard, so you don’t have to worry about cutting your hands. While I am sure Iron Chefs get little cuts and nicks and burns on their fingers and knuckles, I don’t think anyone would want to see their fingers on the cutting board on top of a mound of carrot matchsticks.