Technique Of The Week: Peeling

Means “to strip or tear off an inedible or undesirable outer layer, especially as it relates to a fruit or vegetable.” The term “peel” refers to the protective outer layer (exocarp) of a fruit or vegetable which can be peeled away to reveal the edible portion of the produce.

Depending on the thickness and taste, fruit and vegetable peels are sometimes eaten, such as with apples. In some cases, the peel is unpleasant or inedible, in which case it is removed and discarded, such as with bananas or potatoes. In the case of citrus fruits, the peel is bitter and generally not eaten raw, but may be used in cooking. The outermost, colored part of the peel is called the zest, which can be peeled off and used in recipes for its tangy flavor.

Like every budding chef who starts out with the routine task of peeling, my peeling career began with an ancient swivel-blade peeler and some carrots. The peeler of my youth is still the most commonly available, is still inexpensive (I even saw one recently at the Dollar Store!), and is still perfectly designed for the job it's meant to do. It was a simple tool with a contoured metal handle, which is really an open, easy-to-grip frame that provides a stable holder for the steel rod that, in turn, secures the blade. The curved blade is point¬ed at the top, the better to carve out unwanted potato eyes, and has a slit down the center. Since both sides of the interior slit are sharp, the peeler works equally well for righties and lefties. And since the blade is mounted on a steel axis, it rotates just enough to ride up and down the hills and valleys of a bulbous potato or craggy squash.

I was 23 before I realized that there were other types of peelers. I was intrigued by the top-bladed “harp” peeler but quickly relegated it to the yard sale heap because I could never master the proper motion and ended up with a frustrated pile of mutilated potatoes. I reverted back to the rickety prehistoric pivoting version of my formative years.

Then I found it. The only peeler I will use forevermore. The stationary-blade peeler is as close as you can get to a knife and still have the convenience of the curved, slit-down-the-center righty or lefty blade. On this no-nonsense tool, the blade is mounted straight up on a handle that can be made of any manner of high-tech materials or the standard metal, plastic, or wood. I prefer the indomitable straightforward movement of the immobile blade to the clanky swivel variety.

How to Peel Produce:

The peel fruits or vegetables using a vegetable peeler, firmly grasp the produce in one hand and hold the peeler in your other hand. Slant the peeler downward and slowly peel the skin away. Rotate the item and continue the peeling.

Continue the process with the top and bottom of the produce making sure to remove all unwanted skin. Using the pointy tip of the peeler, extract any unwanted blemishes or growth (like a potato’s “eyes”) by simply gouging the tip into the produce and twisting with your wrist. Remember to save the peels that can be used to enhance broth or soup or add them to your compost pile.