A mandoline: cutting potatoes and making crisps

As a chef I have acquired quite some knife skills the last years. I take pride in those techniques and I find comfort in chopping up five kg of onions. It feels like meditation. But there is more to food processing than a simple knife, think of kitchen aids such as graters, microplanes, blenders and ceramic platergraters. These days there isn’t a kitchen without some electric kitchen aids.

Before electricity, people would cut their vegetables the old-fashioned way: with a mandoline. Instead of holding a knife in your hand, the blade is fixed onto a flat surface. All you have to do is slice the preferred vegetable back and forth across the mandoline. Imagine my joy when, a few weeks ago, I found a beautiful antique wooden mandoline in a charity shop. Since I bought it in the rural part of the Netherlands, I guess that it’s been used on a farm to slice kales for making sauerkraut, a Dutch winter staple.
The mandoline is made of dark and worn beech wood and mounted with two iron blades. It has a small safety box that slides down a rail and a safety handle to press down on the vegetable you’re slicing. These safety measures are a great relief; in my experience mandolines have a tendency to nibble at your fingers until the tips are bloody and the nails are gone. Kids, don’t use a mandoline without covering your hand with a glove or towel.

I was so exited about my find, I started slicing the first thing I came across: a potato. That inevitably led to my fist lesson: the round shape of the potato spins the vegetable, rather than slicing it. If you cut off a small piece from the bottom and the top, the potato is easier to slice. The result: beautiful waver thin slices, thinner then a millimetre.

I couldn’t throw away the sliced potatoes so I started experimenting to make my own crisps. Making your own crisps isn’t difficult or expensive. You need sunflower oil, potatoes, salt and of course a mandoline. Two things are important when deep-frying potato’s: uniform thickness and washing off the starches. The thickness is important to achieve the same crispiness in every crisp. To achieve the crispiness its important to wash off the starch that appears on the potato when you slice or cut it. If you don’t wash the sliced potato then the starches will burn very quickly and you’ll end up with deep brown crisps.

Wash the sliced potato until the water remains clear. You can start frying right away, but tossing wet products into boiling oil creates an almost violent explosion it’s rather dangerous. I chose to dry the slices on kitchen paper. I don’t have a deep fryer so I use about a 2L off sunflower oil to deep fry. The best temperature to fry them is 160 Celsius.

Slide the potato in the hot oil and keep stirring them and pushing them under. Don’t fry to many of the slices at the same time. Fry them for several minutes until they’re golden brown. Put them on kitchen paper en season with salt. If in want of a dip, I recommend using crème fraîche seasoned with pepper, salt, and a handful off chopped chives.

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