Do you remember your first curly fry?
In the late 1970s I was a teenage prep cook at an oversize fusion-concept restaurant called Ginsberg and Wong. We spiraled hundreds of pounds of unpeeled Russets a day using a mechanical cutter mounted above 22-gallon Cambros half-full of cold water. Once fried, these were piled into 14-inch bamboo steamer baskets from nearby Chinatown, alongside bulging deli sandwiches. I once actually saw a guy stand up, sandwich in hand, and yell, “Would you get a load of this Reuben?”
We eat differently now. Sometimes, the fries are made of squash.
If curly fries are already on your menu, you’re probably using one of the fine professional vegetable-prep implements on whimsical view in our retail showroom and store, Chef Supplies by KaTom, and also available online. Don’t go changing.
But if you’re a home cook–or run a concession, cafe, food truck, catering business, or other small foodservice operation and don’t think you can justify the price and space for a dedicated commercial spiral cutter–you may have secretly wondered whether any of the “spiralizing” gadgets seen on TV is worth springing for, if only on a trial basis.
I like the way you’re thinking. Because the fact is, these domestic models are basically scaled-down versions of the commercial food choppers, slicers, wedgers, and spiral cutters used now, and those, in turn, are only fundamentally unmodified versions of the ones we used back in the day. You might be surprised at how little they’ve changed.
Rogers Walla-Walla, Inc., of Washington is said to have pioneered the manufacture of potato “curlicues” using industrial-scale machinery developed for its Tater Boy brand in the 1980s and based on the principle behind the turn-of-the-century hand-crank cutters shown above (left and center). As their patent information explains, there were two ways to slice it: you could bring the rotating potato to the nonmoving blade using, for example, an electric drill, or you could bring the rotating cutter to the still potato. If I used a restaurant’s Gold Medal 5280 Manual Fry Cutter and a Coily Q (above, right) at home back in the 1970s, I’d probably still use a Gold Medal 5280 Manual Fry Cutter in a restaurant kitchen now. I might have a slightly wider set of options to chose from for my domestic “enspiralator,” but that would be due to a revolution in communications, not food-prep technology.
Curly fries aside, when we’re precision-cutting food into adorable shapes, we’re usually working at a very narrow end of the food-prep spectrum, in the rare air where hotel chefs sculpt sugar into birds of paradise and melons into lifelike tiger heads, using loop tools and Schnittzmesser sets from Solingen, Germany; Thiers, France; and Thailand. The all-but-infinite variety of these implements has sped their adaptation to the housewares market, along with a countless domestic food processors no self-respecting chef would allow into their kitchen. This does not mean, however, that a plastic-bodied spiral cutter pitched on TV is inadequate to a limited scope of foodservice use, like spiralizing beets for soup garnish on a holiday menu or carving an apple into an escargot for no apparent reason whatsoever, as the gadgets of Decofruit do in their mesmerizing wild kingdom.
Specialty-cut vegetables have long been moneymakers for carnival and stadium concessionaires, who know that a spiral or ribbon cutter can add enough fat-, flavor-, coating-, condiment-, and cash-absorbent surface area to turn a half-pound potato into a 700-calorie tangle bigger than a child’s head and packing a 75-percent profit margin. They call that “plate coverage.” Vegetables continue to steal more and more space from meat and seafood on restaurant dinner plates both “vegetarian” and non-, and several influential chefs in nationally prominent indie restaurants have seriously upped their produce game over the past year. An inexpensive standalone spiralizer or set of spiralizing attachments can add real depth to yours, in many different areas of the menu.
Besides deep-fat standby snacks like pakoras (left), french-fried onions, ruffled zucchini or potato fries, pickle chips, and taproot tempuras, try piling broad ribbons, tubular “noodles,” or curled “threads” of spiral-cut squash, carrots, parsnips, yams, turnips, and beets into elegant latkes, rösti, fritters, or croquettes for frying. Cut curly chips of taro or rutabaga and oven-fry or bake them for dipping and topping.
Spiralized food can produce an instanaeous “Pinterest effect” in caterers searching for signature portable menu items and looks. A few ideas:
- – Saute and toss “noodles” of zucchini, butternut or acorn squash, or golden or red beets with raw cucumber, apple, pear, or cantaloupe “noodles” for raw slaws.
- – Pile shallowly filled quiches with mountains of fresh curly multicolored vegetable crudités.
- – Candy off fennel, carrot, ginger, beet or galangal “threads” for cocktail, punch, and tea infusions and garnishes, and reserve some for seasoning and topping soups, or for adding to tacos along with radish and jicama curls and shavings.
- – Spiralizing pineapple pieces produces a versatile “lace” to layer with the pork in tacos al pastor or to drop into tequila drinks.
The makers of a more than a dozen spiralizers sell them with the promise of limitless low-calorie gorging, a strategy that can’t go wrong with the infomercial audience. But after feeding a zucchini from my own garden to the awkwardly named Vegetti resulted in a sloppy, blood-tinged pile of irregular toenail-shaped shred, I began to suspect commercials of faking their results. My “spirals” bore as much resemblance to the Rapunzel waves of squash cascading on the screen as my pugs’ hair does to that of Mrs. George Clooney, and the results even for restaurants seemed to vary, as many an underwhelming Instagram shows.
So, do home spiralizers actually work? I tested one manual and one electrically-driven model: the World Cuisine A4982800 Paderno Spiralizer Pro Slicer, a plastic-bodied standalone hand-cranked cutter, and the KitchenAid Spiralizer with Peel, Core and Slice Stand Mixer Attachment, a metal shaft and set of metal blades that attach to a KitchenAid plug-in stand mixer. Spoiler alert: The answer is yes, they work–as does the Vegetti, it turns out, for small, dense, easily handled vegetables like carrots; you just have to get to know their limitations. A spiralized Bible’s worth of reviews and results have been written about these products online, so I’ll just give you my topline notes.
The Raw Power of Paderno
Petite and molded from white plastic with pink graphics and slot-storage for three blades behind a cute little lift-up door, the Paderno cutter seems a bit insubstantial. As I loaded a potato onto its horizontal skewer, I was visited by an image of Barbie being slid headfirst into an MRI machine. Turns out it’s perfectly sturdy for its size provided you can keep surfaces dry enough for the suction-cupped feet to adhere; indeed, it almost works too well. Spinning a four-inch Vidalia into a wedding decoration in fifteen seconds, the Paderno Slicer all but begs for a ham to spiral–but resist the temptation. I didn’t. I pushed just about everything dense I could think of through the blades of this little guy, including Spam, Spam, Spam, a stick of butter, a tube of frozen dough, and Spam, and though I didn’t manage to hurt it, the results–whether with the straight, ribbon-cutter blade, the blades with smaller holes for spaghetti-type cuts, or the chipper for thicker curly cuts–were just silly.
The Paderno impressed beyond its appearance. It turned a pickle into shirt ruffles, made pineapple “lace,” spiraled a jalapeño into martini garnish, and–the whole point–produced abundant quantities of the celebrated “zoodles.” With a Y-peeler, a zester, or a Vegetti-type cutter, the Paderno Slicer is a great choice for helical prep in any food truck, small kitchen, or concession.
The KitchenAid Spiralizer Attachment comes packaged as a James Bond-like arsenal in a box. Everything about it–the heavy metal click-into-place attachment, its 4 quick-change stainless blades plus peeler plus skewer–feels solid and high performance. Because I’d learned my lesson pushing silly foods through the Paderno model, I started the KitchenAid with a trimmed-out chunk of butternut squash. It had some difficulty digging in. I tried an apple to test the peeling function. That worked fine so I returned to the squash, this time unpeeled. No dice. But when I finally got around to Mr. Potato, the KitchenAid dazzled, gobbling spud and spitting out spirals worthy of Arby’s itself.
If you’re using a KitchenAid already in your operation and want to kill ’em with curly fries or apple pies, this attachment makes excellent sense.
Of course, either makes a great gift for a home cook: a vegetarian, a vegan, or perhaps that twisted sister who’s so hard to shop for.