Like a tooth brush, potato peelers are obviously a simple, but very useful tool.
However, sometimes the obvious… isn’t so obvious.
My fiancé grew up in Romania, which, when she lived there, was ruled by a Communist dictator.
It wasn’t very pleasant. Things you and I take for granted, like hot water, electricity, milk, bread…were all rationed. Even as late as 1989.
As a teen, she learned to cook a few, simple, home prepared meals and eventually came to the U.S. Iacobina still enjoys cooking, as a matter of fact, she’s quite a good cook.
On our first Christmas together, I bought her a new set of pots, pans and some kitchen utensils. Among them was a potato peeler.
She loved the pots and pans, well, actually she had no choice, because I immediately through what she had been using…in the trash.
The utensils? Well, they all found a home in her cupboard, and with it, the potato peeler.
Because she enjoys cooking, there were many evenings in that first year that I could just relax with a cocktail while she cooked.
Well, kind of.
Over time, as I watched Iacobina cook, I noticed that she never used the potato peeler I bought her? She always peeled her vegetables with a paring knife or scraped them with a fork. At first, I never said anything, but eventually after watching her scrape and pare so many vegetables, watching her prep vegetables was like fingernails on a chalk board.
Eventually, I had to ask. “Why don’t you use a potato peeler”, “It’s SO much easier”?!
“What? Why?” Waving her dull, plastic handled steak knife turned paring knife she responded. “This is a Communist Potato Peeler, it works great!”
I told her I had bought her a ”real” one for Christmas and it works great! I then fished it out of the cupboard and showed her how to use it.
The expression on her face was one of wonder and awe. She had never used a potato peeler before. This…was an amazing invention. A revelation.
Actually, I’m not sure who was more amazed. Her discovering the “potato peeler” or me believing that everyone on the planet uses one. Nevertheless, old habits are hard to die, and even now, if she just happens to have a paring knife in her hand while she’s prepping food, she’ll just go ahead and scrape her carrots.
Like the “any pizza is good pizza” my theory is that most any functioning potato / vegetable peeler is WAY better than peeling a vegetable with ANY paring knife or scraper. Having said that, there are some peelers worth paying a bit of extra money for.
Swivel vs. the “Y” Peeler
First, let’s discuss type. There are two. The Swivel and the “Y” type.
The swivel type vegetable peeler is straight, with a handle at one end and the “business” swivel blade at the other. The blade is usually stainless-steel, but you can get some brands in ceramic. I prefer stainless steel, and with stainless, you can also get the serrated version (which for the life of me I don’t get because I can peel tomatoes and waxed vegetables JUST as easily with my non-serrated peeler but hey, whatever…) With the swivel peeler, the usual peeling motion is away from you.
The “Y” type peeler has a its blade perpendicular to the handle, thus its support arms extend out from the handle like a “Y”. Depending on how you choose to hold this peeler the peeling motion can be either toward you or away from you but most people grip the handle like a hand-shake and peel towards themselves. To me, it’s cumbersome and slow.
My go-to peeler is the OXO Pro Swivel (they also make it in a Good Grips version”. Likewise, the OXO Good Grips Y Peeler would be my preference if I lost my mind and decided to change who I am and everything I enjoy about life.
I don’t think I can tell you anything about how to use a vegetable peeler that you probably don’t already know, however, there are a few things you can use a vegetable peeler for that aren’t necessarily “front-of-mind”.
Here are a few:
- With “gluten-free” recipes on the rise, many suggest using vegetable “noodles”. You can go out and buy them (even at Nino’s) but you can also make them by using your vegetable peeler. Using a zucchini for example, just press firmly and make long strips end to end. Stack the strips on your cutting board and cut down the length of the strips in ¼” wide noodles. Sauté them in butter or oil and add your pasta sauce of choice.
- Vegetable “chips” are a popular alternative to potato chips. Carrots, beets, turnips, rutabaga and sweet potato all make great chips. After peeling off the outer skin, peel off thin panels and fry them in 375 F canola or vegetable oil until crispy. Drain on absorbent paper towels and salt lightly.
- If you enjoy candied orange or lemon peels use your vegetable peeler to peel ¾” wide strips of any citrus fruit then simmer them for 20 minutes in water twice beginning with new water each time. Lastly, simmer these “blanched” citrus peels in a simple sugar syrup solution of equal parts granulated sugar and water for 30 to 45 minutes. Once done, remove the peels, pat off the excess syrup and roll them in granulated sugar. Allow them to dry and enjoy.
- Chocolate Curls. Want to dress up your desserts? Your ice cream? Use your vegetable peeler to create beautiful chocolate curls for a elegant topping. Buy a large bar so it’s a bit on the thick side (1/2” thick is best). Keep the chocolate at room temperature and hold it on edge. Peel slowly down the edge to create the best curls.
- Other fruits and vegetables. Chef’s usually peel the lower ends of asparagus and peel off the outer “strings” of celery stalks before using them for nearly anything. And if you like mangos, peeling off the skin with a peeler is much easier than a paring knife.
- The end of most swivel peelers has a pointed “beak” which does a pretty fair job of hulling strawberries and removing potato “eyes”.
Sometimes, the obvious is not so obvious.