When Kenji published a list of his most essential cooking equipment, he included a Y-Head Vegetable Peeler made by Kuhn Rikon. It seemed like a pretty obvious item to me; then again, I've been working with food for years and I can't remember the last time I saw any other peeler in a pro setting.
But in the comments, some readers weren't convinced the y-peeler was as good as the straight swivel peelers most home cooks use.
I have two things to say to this. The first is that if you truly love your straight swivel peeler and it's doing everything you've ever wanted, more power to you—I can't argue with that. The second is: THAT'S CRAZY! A Y-PEELER IS CATEGORICALLY SUPERIOR.
It's hard to show in photos why I like these so much, but I'll try. Before getting to the pictures though, I'll start with some key points:
- Kuhn Rikon's y-peeler has a carbon steel blade. In my experience its blade starts out—and stays—way sharper than the stainless steel ones I've used. The carbon steel is prone to rusting, so you have to wash and dry it soon after each use, but we should take care of all of our cooking tools anyway (especially blades), so I don't really consider that a negative.
- They're cheap! A 3-pack, at the time of writing, is selling on Amazon for ten bucks. That's just a few dollars per peeler. I always buy a few at a time, and when the blade finally does start to fail, I just switch to a new one.
- Unlike a lot of swivel peelers, which often have the blade on only one side, the shape of a y-peeler makes it work in either hand. As a lefty, it's invaluable to have a peeler that works for me—and anyone else in my kitchen.
- The wider handle, as compared to most narrow-handled straight peelers, means you can hold and use the peeler with a lighter grip, which is more comfortable.
My guess is that, because of the y-peeler's different form, many people who are used to straight swivel peelers have trouble adjusting. The technique is slightly different and it takes a little getting used to before you start to feel its power.
Here are some examples of how I use it.
Let's start with these carrots. It's a still photo, but just look at how clean the peeled shaving is. That's the carbon steel blade's sharpness at work. Plus, as you see here and in the subsequent photos, the y-peeler cuts thinner swaths than most straight peelers, leaving more of the vegetable behind.
For something like a carrot, sometimes I'll hold the stem end in my hand and rest the carrot's tip on the cutting board. Then I'll make quick lengthwise pulls with the peeler from stem to tip, spinning the carrot in my fingers as I go. It's peeled in no time.
Other times, I'll hold the carrot in the air, usually right over the garbage, and just shave those strips right into the trash. With a y-peeler, you end up pulling down along the length of it with your hand, as opposed to laterally scraping the vegetable the way straight peelers tend to work.
Multiple grips are possible, depending on what you're peeling. Above, I'm palming the sweet potato, allowing me to get full-length passes with each stroke.
Whereas, here, I'm holding the potato more firmly in my hand. I can peel faster this way, but I won't be able to get full-length passes, so I'll flip the potato to finish the end that's currently in my hand.
For more precision peeling, such as taking off an apple peel in one continuous strip, it's possible to palm the peeler, freeing the peeling hand's thumb to brace against the thing you're peeling. It'll slow you down, but you'll have more control.
Like a samurai, one deft stroke against the apple's base takes the peel there right off. Kashwing!
Taking some zest off citrus, like an orange? No problem, the y-peeler gets it off with minimal pith—just look how you can see the blade through the zest.
Use one of these for a couple months straight, then see if you still want to go back to the straight ones. If I were a betting man, I'd say it's unlikely.