Knife Work

Most knives only need one hand, thank goodness! Most people have the luxury of a second hand to control what is being cut. Gravity, methods, and special blades can augment the efficiency of a lone hand.


Cutting & Slicing

Any number of knives do a good job of cutting and slicing. All you need is one that feels comfortable to you. Only you can determine if you need an adaptive or specialty knife. One common type is a rocker knife. Another type is a knife with a right-angle handle. Another possibility is a rolling knife, such as a pizza cutter. If manipulating a regular straight knife is difficult, you can find a variety of alternatives, especially online. I have tried several alternative knives. For me, a curved blade is considerably easier for my clumsy left hand to use than a straight blade. Left-handedness is not natural for me. You may need to experiment to find what works best for you.

My favorite knife for cutting cheese is a rocker knife, an Alaskan Ulu knife, with its own stand to shield the sharp curved blade edge. With this blade, you apply pressure downward and rock the curved edge to increase the width of the cut. The cutting depth is limited by the distance between the edge of the blade and the bottom of the handle. It is great for a 1-inch thick block of cheese but useless for cutting through a watermelon. 

I also have a rocker-bladed steak knife, which I have carried to restaurants so that I could manage chops and steaks. I have yet to find a sheath that works well for carrying it. I also carry packets of disinfectant wipes for cleaning the blade after use. However, at home I tried using my 6-inch Ulu blade on meat and discovered that it works at least as well as the curved steak knife. In fact, the pointed ends were very useful for cutting close to a bone or a strip of fat.  

A large rocking pizza knife can be very handy. The trick is to choose one that can be used with one hand. Many are designed with two handles, one for each hand, which doesn’t apply in this situation! I have used my rocking pizza knife, held upside down in a Swedish board vise, to pit avocados as described below.

A conventional rolling pizza knife is very limited. It bogs down quickly in thick or dense food stuffs. I’ve also learned that a rolling circular knife (pictured) is handy for several tasks that are normally done with conventional knives. A rolling knife is terrific for mincing onions; it rolls back and forth with ease. The downside of circular knives is that they are more difficult to clean than a regular knife. To be sure it is clean, you may need to disassemble it. I found it very difficult to reassemble.


Chopping. . . & More

Beyond knives, I have looked at various pieces of specialty chopping equipment, but most do not seem to be useful for the one-handed cook.  I tossed one food processor that was in my possession when I had my stroke.  I could no longer open and remove the top.  Perhaps I would have kept it if I had known about the Swedish cutting board/vise at the time.  I did keep my stick blender and its small chopping attachment.  I can use it with one hand and it does a great job of chopping nuts.  The trick here is to pulse the chopper on and off.  If I let it run more than a second or two, the chopped nuts quickly reduce to a course meal (think corn meal texture).  Finely chopped nuts make a great pie crust similar to a graham cracker crust, but for most recipes a courser chop is usual.

I watched a video of a similar multi-tool that can be used with one hand; I was impressed with this tool and bought one. The electric Chefman tool comes in a 4-function version (blend, grate, spiral slice, spiral julienne) and a 6-function version, which has two additional functions: chop and whisk. I bought the 6-in-1 version.

The chopper base and the spiralizer base each have two parts: a black plastic top and a clear plastic base. First insert the motor/handle into the top/lid of the base, aligning the arrow on the handle with the unlock icon on the base top; push down and twist the handle to the lock position. Next, insert the appropriate blade and selected food into the clear plastic chamber. For the chopper, set the lid on the loaded base and twist slightly to secure. Turn the motor on to chop the food. For the spiralizer, align the groves on the lid with the ribs in the clear chamber, press down on the food and press the button to start the motor.

The whisk and immersion blender attachments take a different strategy. Insert the handle into the whisk or blender top by aligning the arrow and unlock symbol.  Being one-handed, I then place the two aligned parts between my torso and my arm and twist-lock the parts to the locked position with my fingers.

I should mention a couple of things about using the spiralizer. First, you can’t just toss in pieces of food and press the button like you can with the chopper attachment. With the spiralizer, you process one piece of food at a time. Besides possibly peeling the fruit or vegetable, you must prepare the food for spiralizing by cutting it into lengths of 1-1/2  to 2 inches. Cut the top and bottom perpendicular to the center/core of the food. The bottom in particular must be straight to allow you to press the food straight down onto the small center spike on the spiralizing blade. If the bottom is cut at an angle, the food won’t stand straight on the blade. Be sure to center the food in the cutting chamber when you press it onto the little centering spike.

Lengths longer than 2 inches will fit in the cutting chamber, but it is much easier to control the cut with lengths 2 inches or less. After positioning the food on the center spike of the blade, place the blender top on the cutting chamber with the groves on the sides aligned. Press the top part (handle) firmly onto the piece of food so that the teeth on the bottom of the pusher/handle bite into the food. Then press one of the two buttons on the handle to turn the motor on; the top button is low speed; the bottom button is high speed. Press down with the handle as the food is being cut. A carrot is possibly the most difficult food to process because it is narrow and hard/dense.  Firm (not hard) vegetables, such as white potatoes, squashes, etc. are probably the easiest to spiralize.

Your fingers are unlikely to be in danger operating this gadget. The Chefman RJ19 is an excellent tool for small food processing jobs.


Peeling

Peeling produce is a very basic part of preparing food. I used to use a manual stick peeler (knife style) for most peeling jobs, but it has been difficult to transfer those basic skills to my left hand. Instead I now use a Y-handled (sling-shot style) manual peeler. I use the spikes on an adaptive cutting board to hold the potato (or other item) while I pull the peeler through the skin. The hardest part of the job is pulling the produce off the spikes to reposition it for peeling another side. In the case of the Swedish style adaptive board, I attach a large spring clamp at the edge of the spike block. If I don’t attach the clamp, the reversible spike block comes off with most vegetables. With the clamp on the job, I can rock the vegetable side to side and end to end to loosen and remove and reposition the produce.


Coring an Apple (or Pear) with a Knife

To core an apple with a knife, place the apple on your work surface stem-end up. If the apple wobbles or tilts to one side, you need to trim the bottom of the apple to get it to stand vertically.

To remove the core, start the first cut just outside of the stem well. Push the knife blade straight down onto the apple and push the blade through the apple from top to bottom. Set aside the slice. Reposition the apple so the cut side is down. Make a cut straight down both sides of the core. Rotate again so the cored piece is flat and cut off and discard the core. Cut the apple slices further as desired.


Pitting an Avocado

Push Avocado Down and Rotate Around Pit
Rotate Halves to Release From Pit

After many failed attempts and an equal number of messes, I finally found a way to cut, slice and pit an avocado. After thinking about how I accomplished this feat when I had two useful hands, I attached a large rocking pizza knife, upside down, in the vise of my Swedish cutting board. I pushed the avocado onto the blade until I could feel the hard pit; then I rolled the avocado on the blade (vertically, end to end) against the pit. Having sliced the skin and flesh all the way around, I pushed the avocado more firmly to stick the pit onto the blade, which made it easy to twist the two halves of the avocado off the pit. Getting the thick skin off the soft fruit was still a challenge. So, I added a step; with skin side down, I roll each half over the blade from end to end to cut the halves into quarters. By laying the pieces with a cut side down, I have been able to pull the skin pieces off with my fingers.

Slice Through Back of Each Half
Peel Skin Off Each Piece

This process was a bit scary, of course, with the exposed blade facing up. If you elect to try this technique, remember to go slowly and be very careful to reposition your hand frequently. The last thing you need is to cut your only hand. Oh, and don’t trip or sneeze either. Need I say it? Don’t use this technique to cut anything but produce with a large hard seed. Cutting something soft this way is just flirting with disaster!

I have also used a large butcher knife mounted in the Swedish board’s vise for pitting an avocado. Both blades do the job, but I actually like the pizza rocker blade better than the butcher knife. The rocker blade’s curve is really easy to use. Either way — be careful. Any blade can cut deeply.


Big & Hard Produce

Mounted on Spikes
Held by Vise/Scraping Out Seeds
Cleaned Out Acorn Squash

Winter squashes–butternut, acorn, spaghetti–are dense and have a thick skin. It takes a bit more strength to cut them. If a squash won’t hold still while I cut, I put it on the spikes of my Swedish cutting board and in the vise for scraping out seeds. 

If cutting through a hard vegetable is daunting, an option to consider is to use a table rather than a kitchen counter for a work surface. A standard dining height table is about 6 inches lower than a standard American kitchen counter. The increased distance from your shoulder to the work surface gives you better leverage for pushing a knife through the tough skin. Don’t stand on a stool to get the height; that would risk a fall.

Melons are likely too big to fit in the vise of a Swedish cutting board. A slightly damp terrycloth towel or a piece of non-slip shelf liner can be placed under the melon to help keep the melon under the blade. Your angle of attack is important.  Try to push the blade straight down to start the cut.


Mandoline Slicer

You may find a carefully selected mandoline cutter helpful, especially if you need to prep large quantities of food. If you plan to shop for food processors/slicers/choppers, closely check how the parts go together. Will you be able to break down and clean the equipment and then reassemble it?

Many mandolines I explored can make thin slices (1/16 to 1/8-inch thick), and some can make slices up to 3/8-inch thick.  Some mandolines use interchangeable blades, which may be challenging to use with only one hand. Others have blades built-in with selection made by turning a knob – possibly a push-and-turn knob, which is a different challenge. The basic blade may be a straight diagonal or V-shaped. Mandolines generally come with blades for straight cuts and for wavy cuts. The wavy blade allows you to make waffle slices as well as wavy slices. Many mandolines also come with secondary crosscut blades, which cut 90 degrees to the basic slice to produce fry and julienne slices. There are other differences among the various products on the market.

I purchased a Good Grips mandoline that has very clever storage on the underside of the base, but I had great difficulty removing the alternate blades from storage with one hand. I finally solved the problem by using an ice pick to pry the blades out of storage. There is a narrow slot adjacent to the holding clips near the tip of the stored blades. I found I can insert the tip of an ice pick into one of the slots and pop the blade loose. Now it is easy to access all the parts. One thing to note about this piece of equipment is that the white plastic runway will stain with some foods, but bleach will remove the stain.

I also tried another type of mandoline (sold by Sterline) that has the blades built in and I accessed them by turning knobs. The smaller (flat) knob flips the basic blade from straight to wavy, but the blade travel depth is greater than the length of the feet so the body of the mandoline must be tipped to one side for the blade to clear the work surface, which is another challenge for the one-handed cook. Half the time the whole mandoline would flip upside down. The other knob (round) controls the depth of the cut and allows a choice of straight cut, fry cut, and julienne cut.

The blade knobs can turn either direction but turning the knobs toward each other works best and avoids one blade getting in the way of the other. There are no indicators on the unit to show the recommended direction. I really liked the Stainless steel runway; it is very easy to clean.

A word of caution is appropriate: use a food pusher/safety holder when using a mandoline. It’s tempting to simply use bare fingers, but be careful. The blades are sharp! I have lost skin on the tip of a finger (along with a slice of fingernail) and a small piece of skin on the heel of my hand. Ouch! Most mandolines come with a food pusher to protect fingers from the sharp blades. These pusher gadgets are excellent for making regular slices. If you want to make waffle cuts where the food must be turned 90 degrees for each new slice, be extremely careful. You can also get special safety gloves, but it’s just about impossible to put on a glove with one hand.  

Possibly the biggest challenge to overcome is keeping the mandoline in one place. The 1-handed cook could benefit from suction-cup feet. The degree of slippage depends partly on the  smoothness of the work surface. Most kitchens have slick work surfaces for reasons of sanitation, and I have been disappointed with most “non-slip” feet. After trying several approaches to solving this problem, the simplest solution is to place the mandoline with the foot toward my body and pull the food downward toward my body. If the mandoline slips, my torso will stop the movement if the “non-slip” feet slip. An apron is nice to catch the mess. I’ve also used small suction cups and “gecko” strips in front of the feet to stop slippage, but the improvement was marginal.

With softer foods, slippage isn’t the problem that denser foods cause. Soft foods are easier to slice than dense foods. Zucchini is easy. Sweet potato requires some force. What is easy with a simple slice is hard with a cross cut slice. Thick slices generally take more effort than thin slices. Almost all mandolines are designed for two hands, but most units can be anchored in place one way or another. With the equipment anchored, your good hand can pull or push food over the slicing blade. The slices will fall directly onto the surface under the blade. This is a good place to use a thin cutting board to catch the slices.

If I want to cut a dense food, I can clamp the mandoline in the vise of my Swedish cutting board. That way, it is very well anchored in place. More often, I choose to use the spiralizer attachments on my Kitchen Aid mixer. A sweet potato is as easy as a zucchini for the Kitchen Aid.

A mandoline is an item that needs frequent cleaning. If you shop for a mandoline, check that you can manage to disassemble and reassemble it with one hand. Some are easier than others. Some are impossible. I do recommend taking a good look and thinking carefully before making a purchase.


Spiral Peeling-Slicing

The only manual spiral cutter I have tried was a peeler-cutter with a suction base.  It was specifically marketed as an apple peeler although it also works on potatoes if they have a fairly smooth surface. Bumpy items don’t peel evenly. When I could get the suction base to stick, I could manage to make it work. The most difficult challenge was reversing the crank once it advanced to the end of the track.

To convert the long spiral into slices, I found that I could cut through one side of the spiral and the piece would become several slices with a cut from the center to one edge.  A cut on the opposite side yielded half-donut shaped slices, which looked to be good to use for apple pie or au gratin potatoes.

The suction base was the big failure of this item for the one-hand cook. Until I learn how to get a good suction on a granite countertop, I will not be using this item.

Disappointed with the manual spiral cutter, I opted for an attachment to my Kitchen Aid mixer. This kit operates as advertised and I have not been disappointed. The mixer kit, of course, costs considerably more than the manual spiral cutter and it is also significantly more robust and requires significantly less physical effort.

I have learned a few things through experience; some of which seem obvious:

  1. Place a container under the blades to catch the processed food.
  2. Cut rounded or pointy ends off food before installing the spindle. It is much easier to center the food when it has flat, parallel ends.
  3. Cut the food into 3 to 4-inch lengths.
  4. Stand the food on end and place the food holder spindle into the food then install both together onto the mixer. It is easier to center the spindle in the food by pushing down on the food than by pushing the food horizontally onto the spindle.
  5. Very dense food, such as sweet potato, takes considerable force to install the spindle all the way down against the food.
  6. Install a cutting blade and the optional peeler on the attachment arm.  Alternately, you can manually peel the food before slicing, which may give better results with lumpy vegetables
  7. Install spindle with the impaled food and adjust the cutting blade until it touches the food.
  8. If the food droops, hold up the free end of the food and push the coring part of the cutting blade into the center of the end of the food.
  9. Turn on the mixer to the lowest speed.
  10. A slicing blade produces a long flat spiral of food, which can be sliced along one side with a knife to change a spiral into multiple flat donut-shaped slices.
  11. Another way to produce flat donut-shaped slices is to cut the food lengthwise almost to the center before attaching the food on the spiral cutter.
  12. The cutter will not cut or peel the entire length of the food. It will not cut into the holder spindle so you will have a small piece of food to remove.
Cut Ends Flat
Insert Spindle
Push Spindle Down
Force Flat Against Produce If Necessary (Hard Produce)
Slice One Side to Center to Make Slices
Install Food on Spindle, Add Peeler, Run Peeler
Remove Peeler, Add Slicer, Run Slicer
Completed Slicing
Push Coring Part of Blade into Center of Potato When Starting the Slice
Slice Hand-Peeled Potato
Remove Core From Spindle


Electric Food Slicer

I sold my old electric food slicer after I lost the use of my right hand.  With an “empty nest,” I no longer had many occasions to prepare large quantities of food.  But the reason for removing it from my kitchen was mainly because I couldn’t remove the cutting blade with one hand.  I’ve looked at some slicers online and I must say that the price for a heavy duty slicer has come down in the intervening years since I had previously gone shopping.  A few of the slicers in the $200-$300 price range look as though they may be capable of one-hand operation and maintenance, but some do not.  Without some actual experience, I cannot make specific comments.  My only recommendation is to check them out closely if you are wanting this type equipment.