What to expect from a good food processor

Even top rated food processors tend to get a few bad reviews. It can seem puzzling that someone could have a great deal of trouble with a product most users love. Many of these negative reviews are easily explained by a lack understanding on the part of the reviewer.

A food processor, regardless of how good it is, won't automatically make you a gourmet chef. It does require a certain level of skill and experience. Don't get frustrated or overwhelmed; this skill is easily attained. Most of it boils down to two things: knowing what should and shouldn't be processed, and mastering the pulse button. It is difficult to learn which kitchen tool is best suited to which task. There are conflicting views among cooks which only adds to the confusion. I've listed some basic guidelines to help provide realistic expectations for your handy new kitchen helper.

In capable hands you can expect a food processor to shred cheese or vegetables, emulsify dressings and mayo, slice most food items, and chop almost anything. It can mix together ingredients for a bread dough and then knead it for you. It can expertly cut the fat into a pie crust or other pastry dough. You can purée most items.

There are a few tasks the food processor can do, although not optimally. These include puréeing soup and grinding meats. A food processor will easily purée the soup, however it can't handle large amounts of liquids so it will have to be split into smaller batches. Most models can only be filled about halfway with liquids, so you will need a 12 cup machine to blend 6 cups of soup. In most cases a blender is a better bet (an immersion blender can be used right in the pot you are cooking in.)

Meats can technically be processed, depending on the desired results. A chicken liver pâté benefits from the smooth purée of a food processor. A hearty chili is enhanced by large chunks of almost ground beef. However, getting anything between those two consistencies is tricky at best. Meat ground by means of a food processor does tend to get mushy when brought past the chunky stage. A "mushy" texture is great for homemade gyros, some dumpling fillings or certain types of homemade sausages. It will likely not be appreciated in burgers, meatloaf or most typical ground meat applications. At the other end of the spectrum, while a chunkier texture can be great in stews and some soups, you can end up with some rough, chewy pieces in a recipe that doesn't involve a long, slow cooking process. So when deciding if the food processor is right for grinding meat, think about the texture you want to end up with.

There are some tasks that should NEVER be performed by your food processor. These include (but are not limited to) grinding spices and chopping ice. Either task is way too rough for the blade. As a general rule,if you wouldn't use your chef's knife for an item because it's too hard, don't expect your food processor blade to fare any better. What to use? A mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder work well for the spices. A blender is the perfect tool for the ice.

Mastery of the "pulse" button is imperative if you want the best results. There is a very good reason high-end models don't feature variable speeds. The speed of your food processor is controlled through proper pulsing. Quick, short bursts are needed for even chopping; otherwise you will end up with some pieces of food puréed while others are still in large chunks. The same holds true when cutting fat into a pastry dough.

It is important to remember even with the most skilled cook performing tasks the food processor is designed for, performance will depend on the quality of the machine. A well powered motor will always provide more consistent and desirable results. For more information, use a good Buying Guide and check out consumer reviews.

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