Chopping a handful of nuts for a cake, or a pound or two of vegetables for a stew, is not an especially challenging task. Even cooks with limited knife skills can do it in a relatively few minutes, with minimal stress. That equation changes if you increase the amount of food to be chopped. In restaurant or catering, where quantities range into the hundreds of pounds, even skilled professionals turn to machines such as the so-called "buffalo" chopper to speed production.
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A Physical Description
Even if you're unfamiliar with restaurant equipment, the chopper's distinctive appearance makes it easy to locate in a kitchen. It's roughly rectangular in shape, with the motor in a blockish square or rectangular housing alongside the chopping bowl. The bowl itself typically ranges from 14 to 18 inches in diameter and is covered by a heavy metal shield with an opening in the front. Generally made of heavy-duty brushed aluminum, they stand on sturdy legs with vibration-absorbing rubber feet. Depending on the kitchen, the chopper might be located on a section of the prep counter, or on a small stand or wheeled cart of its own.
How It Works
You can think of a buffalo chopper as a sort of food processor but tipped on its side. Underneath the bowl's protective cover, a pair of blades much like those of your food processor rotate at high speed on a horizontal shaft. At every turn they pass through a steel "comb," a flat plate with slots for the blades. This brushes food from the blades, preventing it from sticking and unbalancing the cutter. The bowl itself rotates on a vertical shaft, passing your ingredients repeatedly beneath the blades. The longer the food turns, the smaller and more uniform your pieces will become.
What It's Used For
The chopper, as its name indicates, is primarily used for chopping ingredients finely. Mincing meats in the chopper creates a different texture than forcing them through a grinder, for example, and chefs often prefer it for specific dishes. You might also use the chopper to prepare mushrooms for a sauce, turn stale bread into breadcrumbs, or reduce several pounds of walnuts to crumbs for a cake. As with a food processor, it can also be used as a slicer with a simple change of blades. When used in this way, it can quickly turn out considerable quantities of carrots, potatoes, turnips or other sliced vegetables.
Working With a Chopper
Buffalo choppers are too large and heavy-duty for home use, so you're unlikely to see one unless you volunteer to help with food preparation at a holiday-season event or a high-volume year-round kitchen. In either case, you'll be given close supervision and usually a printed sheet of instructions until you demonstrate that you can use the machine reliably and with due attention to safety. The machine won't operate without its safety cover in place, so if it doesn't turn on that usually means you haven't locked it correctly. Food can safely be removed from the opening with a spatula while the machine is running. Never under any circumstances should you reach under the cover.