I don't know that there's a kitchen task less glamorous than peeling potatoes. Peeling potatoes is dull, monotonous work, and the humble y-peeler (as opposed to a fancier swivel peeler) may seem like dull tool by association. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as this so-simple vegetable peeler can do so much more than peel potatoes. Photos by Claire Lower.
Pick a Pack of Peelers
I love a cheap, functional kitchen tool, and the y-peeler has one of the best practicality/cost ratios around. However, not all peelers are created equally, and picking a dull, inefficient specimen could drag out the task at hand.
You'll notice that I'm focusing on the y-peeler here, which is different from the straight-bladed swivel peelers you may be used to seeing. Y-peelers are called "y-peelers" due to their shape which -- I'm sure you've figured out -- is in the shape of the letter Y. I find the handle of the y-peeler to be a little easier to grip than my straight swivel peeler, and -- since it's double-bladed -- it peels easily from any angle or direction. (This also may be useful if you are left handed.)
The most important thing to look at when picking a peeler is the blade. Carbon steel will stay sharper longer than stainless, and a c-shaped blade means it handles curves expertly. (A quality I look for in vegetable peelers and men! Amirite ladies?) You also want a peeler that is fairly light so your hand doesn't tire after prepping a peck of apples for a pie.
I personally use a no-name brand carbon steel peeler I picked up at my nearest grocery store. That thing has been treating me well for months now, and I abuse it quite a bit. Even if it doesn't last that much longer, it was only five small dollars, and I won't have any qualms about dropping another five for a fresh one.
Move Beyond Potato Peels
Yes, the peeler's main function is to peel, but let's not neglect its other, very exciting and sexy functions. (I say "sexy" because there is cheese and chocolate involved, my dears.) Let's investigate all the great things the y-peeler can do together, holding hands virtually over these interwebs. We'll talk about peeling real quick, but then we'll move onto cheese and chocolate, I promise.
- Peel Boring Vegetables Quickly: I have peeled many potatoes and apples in my life, with both straight swivel peelers and y-peeler, and the y-peeler makes everything noticeably easier. Because of its sweet, c-shaped blade, it deftly manoeuvres around the edges of curved produce, making quick work of any fruit and vegetable it encounters. It also removes peels in incredibly thin pieces, leaving behind as much food as possible.
- De-Stringing Celery: I know someone who will not shut up about the merits of peeling celery, so I decided to give it a whirl. Pulling the peeler along the outside of the stuff does indeed remove those pesky strings, making for a less annoying celery eating experience.
- Make Food Ribbons: You know what's more fun than eating baby carrots? Eating carrot ribbons. Actually, I think almost every vegetable is better in ribbon form. Not only do they look pretty, they cook faster and make great raw salads. (Make a shaved asparagus salad if you have any doubt.) You can also make beautiful, hypnotic spiral vegetable tarts, like the one in the video above.
- Make Zest for Cocktails (and other things, I guess): I don't mess with kitchen tools unless they have a boozy application, and the y-peelers contribution is an important one. It may seem like a "silly garnish" but citrus zest is an important ingredient to many cocktails, like Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and my BFF the martini. The key to a good bit of zest is to take as little pith with it as possible, a task I cannot accomplish with a paring knife.
- Prepare Perfect Cheese Shards: I like a cloud of fluffy shredded parm as much as the next pasta slurping human, but sometimes I want salty, shaved shards of the nutty stuff. Shaved cheese stands out in a dish -- be it pasta, salad or grilled vegetables -- rather than melting into the background as shreds sometimes do. A y-peeler lets you shave off delicious wisps of any hard cheese, a function that practically outranks all others.
- Build Piles of Chocolate Shavings: Chocolate shavings are so important, you guys. Not only are they perfect of tempering (they melt faster and more evenly), but they somehow taste better than just biting into a bar. The y-peeler makes perfect piles of little chocolate shavings, which beg to be sprinkled over ice cream or eaten directly off the cutting board.
- Soften Butter: Hey, are you a forgetful scatterbrain that forgets to set butter out so it has time to come to room temperature? Uh, me neither, but if you are, you can shave cold butter into ribbons, greatly decreasing the time it takes for it to become soft and malleable.
Oh hey, beautiful cheese crystals.
See? I told you things would get more exciting than potatoes. Though, let's be real, potatoes are actually pretty exciting.
Clean It, Care for It, Treasure It
Remember how I said the carbon steel blade was the key to peeling success? Well, those things are a little more rust prone than stainless, which isn't really that big of a deal, you just have to make sure to wash and dry it after every use.
Just swish it around in some warm soapy water, scrubbing it with a bristle brush if necessary, rinse and dry. Boom. You're done. I actually prefer things that have to be washed and dried immediately after each use, as their need for immediate attention keeps dishes from piling up in the sink.
So yeah, the y-peeler is much more exciting than we give it credit for, but even if its only function was to make potato peeling a little faster, that would be a pretty good single function.