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Slicing salami, et al., very very very thin


Fat Guy
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Short of purchasing a professional deli slicer for several hundred dollars, devoting half your kitchen counter space to it, and spending an hour cleaning its parts after each use, what options are there for cutting deli meats super-thin?

Even with my best knives, I can't do it. Can a sushi chef do it? Is it even possible to do this without a rapidly spinning blade? Is there some cheap device I don't know about that accomplishes the task with aplomb, or even without aplomb?

Of course you can get things sliced when you purchase them, but in my experience they degrade rapidly once sliced. So I'd love to be able to do it to order at home.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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A couple of years back I was lucky enough to be given a hunk of Parma ham and try as I might, see-through slices were impossible. If Adam can do it to this precision then he's a better man than most of us. I tried a whole battery of knives (including electric), a Boerner V-slicer and a mandoline and nothing came close. The best results came if I chilled the meat almost to freezing, but even then they weren't deli thin. Like you I contemplated the spinning blade but decided the space and cash requirements for such occasional use weren't worth it. If there is a solution out there I'd be up for it too.

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At 4:10am?

The Balic: I've got every kind of knife including the exact knife the guy at Murray's uses to cut the smoked salmon (we had to buy him a new one so he could cater a kosher event). But I can't get the slices you can see through. The thinnest slices I can get are maybe twice the thickness of what I want. And they're not as consistent as machine-sliced meats -- they have pockets of thickness, usually at one edge or the other, that are unpleasant to bite into. I'm also wondering whether the spinning blade may have some physical property beyond just being able to slice something thin. Is there something about the spinning itself that affects the exposed surface, kind of like how a laser scalpel cauterizes as it cuts? And why is it that with charcuterie the thin machine slices are superior while with brisket, turkey, et al., the thicker, less regular hand slices are best?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well, one advantage of living in Manhattan is that you can actually make a plan like that work. I'm pretty sure Carnegie closes at 4:00am but I could adjust my schedule. And I bet one of the Korean places in our neighborhood has a deli slicer and is open 24 hours -- probably on Third or Second Avenue somewhere (not that we live in that neighborhood). But just for kicks I'd like to know if it's possible to do it myself. I mean, I might get stranded in Westchester someday and I hear we have people reading these boards who come from as far away as New Jersey.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Oh, in that case you just need to practice more and buy a spirit level. Tape Spirit level to the knife handle (use clear tape so you can see the bubble), practice on something easy and cheap (no, not tommy), like processed cheese. Don't be to ambitous at the begining, remember - baby steps. I would start on getting the slices even, then when you get that to the a stage you are happy with, start trying to get them thinner.

I hope this helps some. :laugh:

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Tommy, behave.

Jayask, does a mandoline really work for this purpose? For that matter does a Cuisinart?

Spoonful, I've got that knife -- two versions of it. One from Wusthof and one from some place in Brooklyn that the salmon guy at Murray's favors. I keep them very sharp. But I can't get true deli-thin slices with them and neither can anybody else I know. And maybe it's just my grip and what I'm used to but I actually think I do better with the standard chef's knife than with the ham slicer (that's what Wusthof calls it). I've also had better-than-average results with the 5" serrated Wusthof utility knife -- but not the results I want. Is there anybody here willing to testify that he or she gets even, consistent, translucent deli-thin slices with any kind of regular knife?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm also wondering whether the spinning blade may have some physical property beyond just being able to slice something thin.

No self respecting purveyor of top quality Bellota ham in Spain would use a mechanical slicer. The heat generated from the rapidly spinning blade would degrade the flavor of the meat. I only know what they tell me. I also believe paper thin slices are much over rated.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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FG, I think the reason for the non-uniform slices may be how you're using the knife. The blades on those generally have more flex to them, so while you may have a steady hand, the blade can twist and flex if used improperly. The whole key to getting thin slices with the long, thin knife is to use long continuous strokes utilizing the length of the knife, not short, sawing cuts. Also, let the sharpness of the blade do the work. If you put too much force behind it, the knife will compress the item being cut, again resulting in non-uniform cuts. Even a deli slicer will do this, if you put too much (or varying amounts) of pressure on the feed plate.

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The whole key to getting thin slices with the long, thin knife is to use long continuous strokes utilizing the length of the knife, not short, sawing cuts. Also, let the sharpness of the blade do the work. If you put too much force behind it, the knife will compress the item being cut, again resulting in non-uniform cuts. Even a deli slicer will do this, if you put too much (or varying amounts) of pressure on the feed plate.

I totally agree.

FG

Ours is a Sabatier, very thin and flexible and I'm sure your knives are fine. You might just need a little practice.

Edit: make sure your meat is cold.

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Bux, I agree that for Parma and Serrano hams there's something to be said for hand slicing. But for salami and the like the standard is machine slicing even at the hardcore places in Italy, isn't it? I mean, don't even the best places use those colorful old Berkel slicers?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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No self respecting purveyor of top quality Bellota ham in Spain would use a mechanical slicer. The heat generated from the rapidly spinning blade would degrade the flavor of the meat. I only know what they tell me. I also believe paper thin slices are much over rated.

Certainly we were eating hams before the advent of mechanical slicers.

Thin enough to eat tender should be fine. You should achieve thin with a good sharp thin-bladed slicer.

Nick

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No self respecting purveyor of top quality Bellota ham in Spain would use a mechanical slicer. The heat generated from the rapidly spinning blade would degrade the flavor of the meat. I only know what they tell me. I also believe paper thin slices are much over rated.

I believe that is also Mario Batali's position regarding Italian salumi of all varieties.

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No self respecting purveyor of top quality Bellota ham in Spain would use a mechanical slicer. The heat generated from the rapidly spinning blade would degrade the flavor of the meat. I only know what they tell me. I also believe paper thin slices are much over rated.

Certainly we were eating hams before the advent of mechanical slicers.

Nick

but with very little self-respect.

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Mynamejoe, I've just spent a few minutes with a small alpine salami and the Wusthof ham slicer. Experimenting with longer, smoother strokes and less pressure, and having just sharpened my knife, I was able to achieve some very satisfactory slices. Not consistently -- my success rate was less than half -- but I think from here on in it's going to be a question of practice. Thank you for your articulate discussion of the proper slicing technique.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Used Hobart slicers can be had for $ 250-300. My mom always had one for copious amounts of bulgoki and cabbage for egg rolls. Her's has lasted 20 years (I still have to go to their house to bring it up from the basement every time she needs it)

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