Learning to Use a Mandoline
A mandoline is a sharp, flat-bladed kitchen tool that allows you to very finely and evenly slice your ingredients, mainly fruit and vegetables. It’s razor sharp blade can be adjusted to alter the thickness of slice and in some fancy versions you can change the blade to make crinkle cuts and other fancy patterns. It is often used for more decorative cooking but is really handy for finely slicing vegetables for salads like coldslaw, or evenly slicing potatoes or other root vegetables for layering in casseroles or vegetable bakes. When using one, extra caution should be taken to protect you from the blade as it can cause a lot of damage to your fingers. All good quality mandolines come with a guard to protect your hand from the blade, which you should use at all times, whether you can see or not.
For a long time Neil has been against me buying a mandoline as he is scared I might do some damage to myself. This is probably fair as he knows how accident prone I can be and also how important my fingers are to me in my daily life. My attitude though is that I can’t let not having sight stop me from doing anything so I finally convinced him to let me get one and try… so long as I was extra careful and got one with a good guard.
I had been eyeing up a mandoline for a while now so when I noticed that one from a brand I trust was on sale in Lakeland the other week I decided to bite the bullet and order it. I figured once it arrived, I could check it out properly and if I didn’t feel safe using it, I could easily return it. Don’t get me wrong, I was a little nervous about it myself. Especially knowing that the other year my dad had cut his finger on one and ended up in A & E, but I just thought come on, I can do this if I really want to. So I bought the OXO Good Grips Mandoline Slicer and anxiously awaited its arrival.
It is a really simple and basic mandoline slicer that I went with as I didn’t require anything fancy, just something that was safe and simple to use. There are 3 thickness settings, with just one straight blade. The hand guard clips on to the mandolin to serve two purposes, to help protect the blade in storage and to also ensure it doesn’t get lost. I was fairly confident I would be fine with it so long as I was extra careful and took my time to learn what I was doing. I think not having sight has taught me to be generally more cautious. I often get the impression that sighted people think they are invincible because they can see what they are doing, when in fact I know I’m not and so appreciate my limitations more. I knew that when my dad cut himself it wasn’t because he couldn’t see properly, it was because he stupidly didn’t use the guard so that emphasised the importance of always using it.
When the Mandoline arrived I excitedly removed it from its packaging and closely examined it. This means that yes, I was feeling around very close to the blade but if i’ve learned one thing in my lifetime, its to have a very cautious approach to touching things I’m not sure about. It’s the only way I can learn what something is and how to use it. I quickly realised that the sharp blade was very clearly well protected and in fact, if I correctly used the hand guard my fingers would never have any need to go anywhere near the blade. Arguably it’s actually safer than using a knife as my fingers are always through necessity very close to the blade with a knife and far away from it with the mandoline.
Once I was well acquainted with the mandoline and confident enough I knew what I was doing with it, the next step was to try it out. I practiced with a potato first, securing it to the hand guard, setting the blade to it’s thickest setting, before carefully gliding the potato across the blade. I hold the mandolin in my left hand above the chopping board or resting across the top of a bowl to keep it steady and to catch the slices. I then hold the hand guard in my right hand which is attached to whatever I am slicing. This means both hands are far away from the blade, minimising the risk of cutting myself. It all feels very safe and secure and really easy to get to grips with.
I quickly discovered that I had to apply more pressure than I was initially using to get an even cut but I was being as cautious as possible as I really didn’t want to hurt myself on my first attempt. Practicing slowly built up my confidence until I started to feel like I knew what I was doing when using it, so I progressed to trying with other vegetables including cucumber and tomato. I was secretly (well not so secretly now) proud of myself for mastering a new skill that in the past I thought I would not be able to do because I didn’t feel safe enough doing it without sight. I realised it was actually really easy and so long as I used it properly, not a lot of skill was involved. Thickly and unevenly sliced cucumber in our wraps and sandwiches for lunch will now be a thing of the past and I can start to look at making recipes that require the use of a mandoline.
i’m looking forward to making things like courgette or carrot ribbons for stir-fries or pasta sauces. Also root vegetable crisps and chips will be much easier to make now as my slices will be far more consistent. Shredding cabbage will take far less time so I will be more inclined to use it. Any recipe I make which calls for very evenly sliced vegetables will now not be so daunting to make, as one thing that my limited knife skills doesn’t allow me to do is slice very thinly or evenly. Now I can.
I am still very cautious when using my Mandoline, I don’t think I will ever feel completely safe with it. This is probably a good thing as it is when you become over confident and comfortable with something that you start to relax and stop giving it the respect it warrants. I always will use the guard, and I will always store it away safely. I will always handle it with the care it needs as I really do value my fingers and I couldn’t do what I do without them. If you have any recipe recommendations for me which require the use of a mandoline then please do share them with me and I will keep you updated on how I get on.
Thank you for reading and speak soon