Cut It Out

Think those tissue-thin beet slices, perfectly julienned radishes, and endless curls of parsnips emerging from haute cuisine kitchens are the work of master knife-wielding chefs? Think again. Such culinary wonders are within the reach of your very own mortal hands without a knife in sight.

As much as we love power tools and well-sharpened knives, simple manual slicers can work their own brand of magic.

Benriner is the Japanese manufacturer of compact, flat mandolines used in home and restaurant kitchens worldwide. They slice precisely, rinse off quickly, and stow away in even the tiniest Tokyo spaces.

For the most part, Benriners have taken the place of classic French mandolines, which have unwieldy stainless-steel bodies and legs. Unfolding the legs alone can be like trying to open an unruly umbrella—one equipped with a razor-sharp blade.

Benriner also makes a turning slicer that’s a favorite of chefs in restaurants from Los Angeles sushi joints to Ducasse in Paris, where I first used it.

One essential accessory to slicers of all kinds should be the cut-resistant glove. Get in the habit of using one, if you happen to value your fingertips.

Super Benriner Asian Mandoline
By Benriner, $49.95

The Super Benriner Asian Mandoline shaves large transparent slices from whole hard vegetables, like daikon radishes.

With a 5-inch blade, it’s the widest model made by the renowned Japanese manufacturer. (The standard Benriner slicer blade measures 3.5 inches.) The slightly extra width is well worth it, in its ability to accommodate the diameter of uncut produce—for example, slicing large sweet onions for hoops of beer-battered rings.

The mandoline comes with four blades, including a straight edge for slices and three toothed julienne blades for fine, medium, and thick strips and sticks. You adjust slice thinness by simply turning knobs on the sides.

The Super Benriner does not have legs, so you simply angle it over a cutting board or lay it across a bowl while holding the top bar handle. The blade is set at a 45-degree angle, which makes it easier to slice hard vegetables than when using a mandoline in which the blade goes straight across—think of the difference between slicing an apple with the knife going straight down, compared with going in at an angle. Plus it doesn’t trap food shavings like those with V-shaped blades do.

The Super Benriner is not dishwasher safe, but it is completely submergible for easy hand washing.

There are just a few drawbacks: A removable finger guard is awkward if not impossible to use. At times, trying to maneuver it nearly drove my fingers into the blade. Also, you’ll often find a Benriner slicer stored in its original battered cardboard box, because it has no stand to put it on for storage. Use a small container to hold the detachable blades for this otherwise excellent, proven slicer.

Turning Slicer
By Benriner, $89.95

Benriner’s Turning Slicer transforms a lowly potato into a long, continuous curl just begging to be deep-fried barely golden.

The slicer is a simple hand-cranked machine designed for morphing everything from carrots to cabbages into strings, ribbons, and strips. Simply load your vegetable horizontally between the blade and crank; then hold the safety tab (clearly labeled Push) while turning the handle to slice. Now you can turn cucumbers into pickled sweet-tart swirls and summer squash into roasted, candied nests.

Like the Super Benriner, the Turning Slicer comes with four blades (one for slices, three for julienne), but again there is no storage. It is not dishwasher safe, but it, too, can be fully immersed for hand washing.

The Turning Slicer is currently available only in its distinctive retro mint-green color.

Whizard Handguard II
By Wells Lamont, $18.13

Cut-resistant gloves are just that—cut-resistant. They’re not cut-proof and despite the fact that some are made with Kevlar, the synthetic fiber often found in body armor, they’re not bulletproof either. Cut-resistant gloves can be cut through, especially by high-speed electric slicer blades or highly serrated knives. It should also be noted that cut-resistant gloves are not stab-proof.

The Whizard Handguard II is the most cut-resistant glove made by Wells Lamont, the highly respected 100-year-old glove manufacturer specializing in industrial hand protection. It’s lightweight but extremely strong, providing flexible protection.

Use it when slicing and changing blades. Make slipping one on as automatic as using any valuable appendage protection.

The glove is machine washable and dryable, but the manufacturer recommends the use of a laundry wash bag to prolong the life of the glove. You can also wash it in your dishwasher, but Wells Lamont suggests removing it after the wash cycle to air dry, because the high heat of the dry cycle can damage the fibers.

The Handguard II is available in sizes from extra extra small to extra large—check the Whizard sizing chart (if you’re between sizes, order one size smaller for a better fit and less material to snag). The gloves are available in white (until recently the most common color of cut- and heat-resistant gloves) and the more forgiving and fashionable gray.