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(article, Ashley Griffin Gartland)
In form and function, food processors are kitchen workhorses. They're typically bigger, better, and more powerful than their blender cousins at performing a wide range of kitchen tasks, from making pizza dough to blitzing tomato sauce and shredding mozzarella cheese.
Since the 1970s, when food processors first came from France to the United States, home cooks have favored them as an indispensable tool, saving both time and energy. They chop fruit and vegetables quickly and evenly and pulverize soups, dips, and sauces into smooth liquids.
“Chopping, shredding, mixing, even grating are easy to do with a food processor,” says Allyson Holt of Allyson’s Kitchen. “You can also do all of this by hand, but it will take a lot longer and you will tire out your hands, wrists, and knives.”
Holt likes her food processor for making perfectly emulsified vinaigrettes, aïoli, and other smooth sauces, as well as chopping nuts and making pie crusts and breads. Robert Hammond, a chef and the owner of Honeyman Creek Farm, also digs out his food processor when he needs to get a task done quickly or when he's making a dish that calls for a large quantity of vegetables, such as the pickle relish called chow-chow. Hammond also uses his food processor for making nut butters and for emulsifying meat mixtures when making pâté or sausage.
[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="A food processor (right) with extra blade attachments."]
Food processors come in a range of styles and prices, from trim, wallet-friendly models to top-of-the-line versions that cater to more serious chefs.
No matter the size or add-ons, however, every food processor consists of a feeding tube set atop a sturdy plastic work bowl that houses interchangeable S-shaped chopping blades powered by a motorized drive shaft. The differences between models include bowl size (marked in cups), motor capacity, and the various tools that come packaged with each model.
When selecting a processor, look for one with a heavy-duty motor, an easy-to-clean design, and a bowl capacity that fits your specific needs, says Hammond. A larger bowl size is a must for cooks who prepare large amounts of food, while smaller bowl sizes of the 3-cup variety work better for home cooks who cook smaller quantities and for those with minimal kitchen-storage space.
“I actually prefer the KitchenAid 12-cup \[model\]," says Holt, who owns three different food processors. "However, I do love the Cuisinart 20-cup version for big jobs, such as making a large amount of gazpacho.”
Depending on how you plan to use your food processor, models with expanded feed tubes, additional bowls, and extra attachments can be worth the extra cost. “Be sure and get the extra attachments, including the small bowl, which is perfect for small batches of shallots, nuts, onions, etc. You will want the slicing disc and the grating disk as well,” says Holt.
When used daily, food processors have a life expectancy of about five years, though the average home cook won’t need to replace a processor for nearly a decade. Still, be nice to your gear and it'll last longer.
“Over the years, using your machine for heavy doughs and processing for a long time, as well as grating a lot of cheese, will shorten its life expectancy,” says Holt. “Also, placing your bowl and attachments in the dishwasher is generally not recommended. And finally, don't put extremely hot liquids into the food processor. It always makes a mess, and seems to not contribute to the health of your machine.”
p(bio). Ashley Griffin Gartland is a Portland-based food writer and the executive director of the Portland Culinary Alliance.