Cuts Like a Knife

DeviceCMYK 8 bits
PERFECT: With the right slicer, you'll get a uniform cut every time.
DeviceCMYK 8 bits

PROCESS VEGGIES: A good food processor can be one of your best kitchen labor-saving devices.

Any way you slice it, the right cutting, slicing and dicing equipment is a key ingredient to equipping your operation's kitchen. Almost without exception, most restaurant menu items require at least one ingredient to be diced, sliced or processed.

For most restaurant managers, getting a fast, consistent portion-controlled slice is of greatest importance. These slicers, for the most part, will slice just about any food item, including meats (raw and cooked), vegetables of all sorts, cheese and many other common products.

Most slicers are gravity-feed models that have an angled blade and a carriage. Semi-automatic and fully automatic machines are the two basic gravity-feed slicertypes available. The operator manually moves the carriage with food back and forth against a rotating blade in semi-automatic models. The fully automatic models are similar except the carriage moves back and forth automatically, relieving the operator from any real effort in the process.

Most machines use either a 10-inch round blade on a compact machine or a full-size 12-inch blade suitable for most production work. Be sure to look at the motor horsepower when selecting a slicer. A larger horsepower motor may be more suitable, especially if you plan on slicing a lot of harder foods such as cheeses.

An automatic slicer is particularly useful for operations requiring a large volume of bulk sliced product. Some of the more expensive models can even automatically portion sliced meats. An important feature to look for, especially if you require a lot of thin sliced meats, is an automatic indexing carriage. The indexing carriage automatically pushes the product against the knife at each slice to ensure a consistent thinly sliced meat.

No matter how talented your cooks are in the kitchen, they can't hold their own with even the simplest of cutting, slicing and dicing equipment. Here's what you need to know to buy.

Some slicers are made with special concave blades that allow for especially thin slicing, such as sandwich meat. There are also some high-end slicers with computerized controls that can slice meat or cheese in a variety of patterns, ready for use in an attractive deli platter. The machines can stack sliced product or arrange it in vertical, horizontal or circular shingles for building party trays of cold cuts.

Most slicers are quite similar in both operation and appearance. One unseen difference that seems to be common when comparing lower-priced units with more costly ones is the type of drive motor in the unit. Until recently, higher-priced heavy-duty slicers were geardriven and lighter-duty models were typically belt-driven. While the type of drive is still a factor, some manufacturers claim the latest belt-drives equal the geardrive performance. Historically, gear-drive units were better for heavy-duty slicing of hard products like cheese, while belt-drive models had a tendency to slip and their belts would wear out over time.

Slicer improvements have been few over the years, but those that were developed related to ease of cleaning or safety. When selecting a slicer, investigate how the machine is cleaned and maintained. Select a slicer that you find easy to disassemble for cleaning. Many machines have knife guards and carriages that are easily removable without tools for cleaning. Features like easy tilting carriages save a lot of time in getting to the blade for cleaning.

Other features to look for include an easy-to-use knife sharpener. Many slicers have sharpeners mounted in the equipment and can be easily used by merely turning the slicer on and positioning the sharpener.

Cutter categories
Many times food preparation needs go beyond straight slicing. Suppose you need either diced potatoes, shoestring french fries, julienne carrots or all three. The food processor is the one piece of equipment needed. Most can perform many cutting actions with speed and consistency. The number of "plates" made for a particular processor model only limits the number and sizes of the different cuts.

At last count, more than a dozen manufacturers were selling food-processing equipment. With this number of manufacturers it's difficult to describe every available item, since some are quite specialized and manufactured to prepare a specific product. We'll examine the major categories of food processing equipment.

Many manufacturers are getting into the market with very basic operating equipment. A simple, versatile and inexpensive cutter/dicer is often as acceptable as units with more frills. The most basic equipment is a machine offering a variety of interchangeable slicing and dicing of different sizes that operates with a hand crank. These units clamp onto a countertop and are easily moveable. The cost is only several hundred dollars. Then there are large, fast units with all the bells and whistles costing many thousands of dollars for those who need the capacity.

Continuous feed
Continuousfeed and bowl-type processors are the two major types on the market. Where a consistent cut is important, typically a continuous-feed machine is used. Although the unit is capable of doing many other products, vegetables are the most processed food type. The typical unit consists of a motor base, a continuous feed and discharge chute and space for a selection of removable round cutting plates between the chutes. Continuous-feed models eject the cut food through the discharge chute, which can be positioned above a pan or container. The food is cut only once and a uniform-consistent product results.

Select a slicer that you find easy to disassemble for cleaning. Many machines have knife guards and carriages that are easily removable without tools for cleaning.

Each cutting plate is made to produce a very specific cut. Many food processors are available with a wide range of attachment plates. Some manufacturers make as many as 35 attachment plates to meet the special preparation requirements of most any operation. Just like the home model you may have, a wide variety of plates can be used for slicing, dicing, shredding and making julienne cuts. You can usually get pretty close to the exact cut you need with standard manufacture plates. For example, one manufacturer makes up to eight different-sized julienne plates just for one processor.

The bowl processor.
The other processor type, the bowl processor, has a cutter bowl that allows the food processor to work like a blender or vertical cutter/mixer. Food processed in a bowl can be chopped, blended or even pureed. The bowl attachment can be used to mix ingredients or even to knead dough. The cut for vegetables, of course, will be less consistent, but can be a very fine chop. Most bowl-type food processors are quite fast, especially the larger models.

For the most flexibility in various types of food processing, choose a processor with both a bowl and continuous-feed attachment and a variety of processing plates. These models are the hybrid combination models that are capable of doing both fine consistent vegetable processing and vertical cutting and mixing as well. These combination models have a single motor base that can be used with a continuous-feed attachment or a bowl for cutting and mixing. The combination unit may be the right choice if there are a variety of products to be done.

The sizes of the units and capacity for both styles range widely for machines fitting an operation's needs. The average unit needed for most restaurants has a one-half horsepower motor. These units are adequate for a small-to medium-sized restaurant. For the large, noncommercial establishment, a one-horse power model will usually suffice. Even a one horsepower unit takes up less than two square feet of counter space and can produce up to 50 servings of vegetables in under a minute.

Using the food processor for preparing vegetables can be a true labor saver. Medium-capacity units are able to dice nearly 100 pounds of potatoes or onions in a matter of minutes or slice the same amount of food in only a few minutes more time. Where consistent cut is important, typically one of these continuous-feed machines is the unit to use.

There are two last items to consider in making the proper buying decision. Machine durability, simplicity of operation and safety are the most important considerations when buying cutting, slicing, and dicing equipment. They must be powerful enough to work quickly and dependably, but simple enough to be user friendly. Safety features must be in place to help prevent accidents.

Lastly, don't get yourself into one of the more common pitfalls of purchasing equipment: overbuying. Rarely does too small a unit get selected. More often operators select an unnecessarily large unit that is more expensive than it needs to be. As always, select the right size for your particular operation.