There are really two types of kitchen appliances: There are the true heroes of the kitchen — the ones that make your cooking easier, faster and better — and then there are the toys. I love my toys, but I could get by without them. I need my heroes though, and my the food processor is a multifunctional super hero. Here you'll find all you need to know to buy, use and clean yours. Photo by Claire Lower.
How to Buy a Food Processor
I'll be honest, a food processor is not the cheapest kitchen purchase you'll ever make, but a good one will give you many years of happy cooking. However, if you're going to drop a chop of change on a food-chopping, emulsion-making, dough-mixing device, that device had better chop cleanly, emulsify fully and mix quickly. Below are some of the factors you'll want to consider when picking yours:
- Chopping: As explained in the above video by America's Test Kitchen, how well a food processor chops depends on a super responsive pulse button (the blade should only move when the button is being pressed and should stop the moment your finger is removed) and small gaps between the blade and sides and bottom of the bowl (small spaces are harder for food to hide in). The shape of the bowl plays a part here as well. Straight-sided bowls let food fall back towards the blades, whereas food can get stuck on sloped sides.
- Slicing and Dicing: Beyond chopping, a good food processor should also be able to slice and shred cleanly, without bruising or crushing food, and with minimal waste. The most important factor here is blade sharpness, as a dull blade will juice carrots along with shredding them, and smear soft cheeses around the bowl, wasting food and making an annoying mess.
- Mixing and emulsifying: Mixing is another area in which a food processor should excel, and again the distance between the blade and bottom of the bowl is key. If the blade is too high, ingredients will sit beneath them as they spin, forever unincorporated. Again, a bowl with straight sides is valued over a sloped bowl, as slant-y sides encourage splattering.
- Clean-up: Finally, a food processor should be easy to clean, because things that are a pain in the arse to clean never get used. Look for a processor that has a smooth design without a lot of pesky nooks and crannies in which food can hide. If you are lucky enough to have a dishwasher, picking one with a dishwasher-safe bowl and blades is an obvious plus.
In terms of makes and models America's Test Kitchen recommends the Cuisinart Custom 14 Cup Processor (priced at around $US160 [$211] on Amazon), which beat out a whole slew of other brands, including the KitchenAid and Waring commercial models. The Cuisinart is also favoured by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of The Food Lab, though he uses the 11-cup model. These aren't available in Australia, but they give you an idea of what to look for.
Once you've purchased your new favourite appliance, it's time to get cooking.
What to Do With Your Processor
It's easy to get overwhelmed by all of the delicious treats you can make with a food processor, so take a deep breath and just do one tasty thing at a time. Besides basic slicing and dicing, your processor can be used to make the following:
Spreads and Dips
Pestos (like the walnut pesto in the video above), hummus and pimento cheese are all made super quickly and easily with the help of the food processor. In fact, I would say that 90 per cent of the action my Cuisinart sees is cheese-related. Between the shredding attachment and blade, both hard and soft cheese can be easily processed into spreads, balls (I recommend this Everything Bagel Cheese Ball from Bon Appetit) and even super-melty slices.
Sauces, Salsas and Dressings
For super-smooth sauces and soups, I prefer my trusty immersion blender, but for chunky sauces like romesco, or marinades with lots of grated ginger or garlic, the food processor is my go-to appliance. The food processor is also your BFF when it comes to salsa making, saving you from the tear-y task of onion chopping.
For emulsions, your food processor has a secret weapon: A tiny little hole in the food pusher, which lets you slowly drizzle in ingredients for perfect emulsions. This flow-controlling feature lets you make rich Hollandaise, smooth vinaigrette and silky aioli.
Doughs of All Kinds
My life was forever changed when the day I learned to make pie crust in the food processor. No matter what recipe you use, there is no more efficient way of cutting fat into flour. In addition to perfect pie dough, the processor can also be used to make pizza dough, fancy French bread and sweet, sweet rugelach.
Tender Ground Meat
Grinding your own meat results in tastier, more tender, safer burgers, and you can use your food processor to make amazing burgers at home without a meat grinder. The video above explains the science behind why DIY ground beef is so superior and this article from Cook's Illustrated walks you through the process. Personally, I wouldn't stop at beef. Home-ground lamb burgers sound pretty amazing.
Crumbs and Powders
Bread crumbs may not be the sexiest thing you can make with your food processor, but trust me when I say that crumbs you'll whip up will be infinitely tastier than the store-bought kind. Just throw some chunks of stale bread in the bowl and give it whirl.
If you want a crumb of a fancier kind, you can also use your food processor to make a fancy browned butter powder, like the one in the video above, but you'll need some maltodextrin for that.
Latkes and Hashbrowns
If you only shred one vegetable with your food processor, make it the potato. Homemade hash browns (not home fries; I am tired of ordering hashbrowns and being given home fries) and latkes are a thing of absolute beauty, and the food processor helps get them into your mouth as quickly as humanly possible.
Easy Oreo Truffles
I am not ashamed to say that the very first thing I made with my Cuisinart was a batch of Oreo cream cheese truffles. Sure, you don't need a food processor to crush cookies and mix them into cream cheese, but using the food processor ensures the Oreos are obliterated into the finest dust possible and incorporates them fully into the cream cheese for a perfect, creamy, chocolatey bite.
How to Clean Your Processor
No matter how easy to clean your food processor is, it still needs to be cleaned. The ensure this task is as easy as possible, rinse the bowl and blade immediately, so as to prevent food from caking on in an annoying fashion. If you have a dishwasher, go ahead and chuck the dishwasher-safe pieces in there and let it do its thing, but if you are like me and are your own dishwasher, fill your sink with hot soapy water and let everything soak for a little bit to loosen up any residual gunk. Next, scrub everything down with a dish brush, making sure to get in all the little crevices, as no one wants old, hardened hummus on their kitchen appliances. Rinse, and let everything dry completely before re-assembling and storing. Once that's done, it's time to start picking your next tasty project.