For years I had coveted a genuine French mandoline slicer. A mandoline is one of those beautifully made cooking tools that makes a difficult or tedious job very simple. Like a food processor, a good mandoline simply changes what is possible or practicable in the kitchen. Although the Bron mandoline has no motorized parts, it is a carefully machined piece of equipment. The price for a good mandoline will be in the neighborhood of that of a decent food processor.
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I first used a Bron mandoline in culinary school. The chef instructors always stressed a respect for the sharpness of the mandoline cutting blade. Cuts and burns - even serious ones by normal standards - are a dime a dozen in any professional kitchen. When I trained and cooked professionally, there was also a definite air of macho masochism about how well a chef could suck up injury and brutal workshifts without complaining. Even in an environment where such stoicism was inculcated, the instructors warned students repeatedly about how careful we needed to be with this tool. It went without saying that the safety slide would not be used and that speed was of the essence. Nonetheless, the mandoline's cutting blade was to be respectfully feared. This is all by way of a caution about this kitchen tool. Do NOT attempt to use a mandoline slicer when you are distracted, tipsy, or worse. The blade is razor sharp and will take the end off your finger quicker than you can say "Jack Robinson."
The mandoline comes with safety covers for the cutting blades while they're not in use. The safety "chariot" is another nice piece of insurance for your fingertips. This should definitely be used by anyone the least bit unfamiliar with a mandoline cutter, and anyone who doesn't fancy some emergency stitches.
The Bron mandoline is made entirely from stainless steel, which means that it's dishwasher safe. This is a real bonus, because cleaning the many surfaces would otherwise be a chore, and I'm not eager to work around those blades any more than is strictly necessary. Unfortunately, the julienne and baton blades sometimes do need more cleaning attention than an automatic dishwasher can provide. Some foods get stuck in the teeth when cutting batons or juliennes. This is common with cabbage and summer squash for instance, though potatoes and other firm, non-leafy vegetables do better.
The Bron mandoline is designed to cut vegetables into a few different forms quickly and with great precision. If you're making a dish of scalloped potatoes, or potato chips for that matter, every slice of potato you cut with a mandoline will be of exactly the same thickness. Likewise, batons and julienne cuts are simple, accurate and very fast. The effortlessness of these cuts is part of what makes the mandoline dangerous when not used carefully. There's even a blade designed to produce gaufrette (waffle) cuts on potatoes and other vegetables. True gaufrette cuts are a little more time consuming because the vegetable must first be cut in one direction, then turned 90 degrees and cut again. Wide cuts with the gaufrette blade can produce crinkle cut potato or zucchini slices. You can even grate vegetables with the blade set very low for shallow cuts.
When I first unpacked my mandoline and began using it, I noticed that the levers which control the thickness of cuts were very stiff. I tried first a food-safe petroleum lubricant on them, and then a liquid teflon product. Neither one had much effect, I suspect because of the design of the levers. The levers are still pretty stiff even after owning and using the mandoline for a year or so. I've gotten used to it and can even see this as a trait that makes the tool safer, since the cutting blade is not going to accidentally shift around on its own. But someone with arthritis or motility issues in their hands might find this problematic.
There are many cheap versions of the mandoline tool on the market. Many of them are mostly plastic with a cheap metal blade. Almost all of them are junk. My husband even had one of these among his kitchen gadgets when we met, so I got to experience the frustration first hand. I believe the superiority of a Bron mandoline would be obvious to anyone who compared it to a cheap plastic mandoline. For one thing, the Bron mandoline will last forever unless you drop it off a roof. It is designed to stand up to heavy professional use. Unlike most cheap mandoline slicers, the Bron has very sturdy built-in legs to stand on, with rubber ends on the feet. So you don't need to use one hand to stabilize it, or balance it over a bowl. When I get it set up for cutting, it's stable and safe to use.
It takes a little while to become familiar with all the levers and different slicing blades, especially if you use it only occasionally. This is one of those tools where it pays to hold on to the owner's manual.
Although a mandoline cannot perform all of the tasks that a food processor does, such as pureeing, it would be an especially useful tool in a kitchen without one. I've noticed oversized, wooden-frame mandoline-style slicers in Amish and Mennonite stores. In their homes without electricity, these communities use this type of tool to slice a lot of cabbage. And the Bron mandoline definitely exceeds a food processor in cutting batons or juliennes. No food processor that I know of can make a gaufrette cut.
Martha Stewart apparently declared that every kitchen should have a mandoline slicer. I'm not prepared to argue for the universal necessity of this tool. I got by just fine without one for years. But I will say that it makes some dishes much, much easier to prepare. If you're just beginning to equip a kitchen, I would suggest that you consider a food processor and a high quality mandoline as an either-or decision. The two tools have somewhat overlapping functions. But if you compare those areas of overlap, the mandoline performs much better. If you must choose between the tools, you should consider which functions you'll want to use most often. If you want a mandoline, the Bron mandoline is the definite gold standard.
A few of my other favorite kitchen tools:
Oxo Good Grips Kitchen Tongs - sturdy and safe to use with non-stick pans
Oxo Good Grips Offset Bread Knife - does its job well and safely
Swing Away Can Opener - the one I kept after trying all the others
Taylor Instant Read Pocket Thermometer - the most necessary tool for cooking roasts of any kind
KitchenAid Professional Standing Mixer - a versatile, high-performing, and durable cornerstone of my kitchen
KitchenAid Santoku knife - a nice intersection of a chef's knife and a utility knife
Cuisinart Mini-Mate Food Processor - grind those spices or make pesto in a trice
Endurance Precision Pierced Colander - drains like a dream, and made of stainless steel
Black & Decker Rice & Vegetable Steamer - takes a licking, keeps on ticking
Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven - ideal for stews and no knead bread
Magnabar Knife Holder - extra storage space for my best kitchen tools
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