Anybody who cooks very much appreciates the value of good tools, and I’m here to tell you that my new/old chinois is the coolest tool I’ve acquired in a long time.
I probably never would have bought one. You rarely see them in stores, and many are rather expensive. But when my friend Susan offered me her late mother’s chinois, I was kind of excited. I have a food mill, but it never seems to work the way I think it should. A chinois looks like it might work better, and I’m here to say and how!
After she gave it to me on Saturday, I wanted to try it out ASAP. Being a lazy cook (at least some of the time), and having a collection of sauce-type tomatoes that needed to be used, I decided to put the chinois to the test. In super-lazy-person fashion, I put the tomatoes in a sauce pan whole along with some onion, garlic, basil, bay leaf and a spot of olive oil. I chopped nothing.
I turned on the heat and realized after a minute or so that I should have halved the tomatoes, so I hacked at them a bit with a knife and, after a few minutes more, applied a potato masher to the mix:
I let the mixture simmer about 15 minutes more, then poured it into the chinois. (Note to self: Pour slowly next time so the liquid part doesn’t squirt out the sides too fast.)
The pestle sits perfectly in the bottom of the cone, and I just moved the pestle around the cone, pretty much like stirring. Voila! The solids exit the cone, minus the seeds, skins, leaves and so on.
Now, I’ll admit this isn’t a sauce that anyone’s Italian grandma might claim. It simmered for about 20 minutes and resulted in a moderately thin sauce with bright flavors, rather than a thick sauce with mellow flavors. They both have their place.
The chinois, meanwhile, is a champ. The whole sieving process took a minute at most, and the parts were easier to cleanup than my food mill.
I felt like I’d just discovered that you can drive screws with a power drill. It’s amazing how much easier the right tool makes a job!
If you’re tempted to get one yourself, let me just say that I wouldn’t even bother unless you get (or have) the pestle, too. I’d also recommend a stand, based on my experience with the food mill that doesn’t seem to want to stay put on top of the bowl or pan when I place it there. Here’s a link to a chinois selection at Amazon.com. The best selection I found on line, however, was at Creative Cookware.
Chinois, fyi, is pronounced sheen-wah, and it is French for “Chinese.” The strainers also are known as China caps, presumably for the cone-shaped hats traditionally worn in China and elsewhere.
There appear to be two general varieties. One is perforated metal, like the one Susan gave me, and the other type uses metal mesh for the filtering. The mesh allows for finer sieving, but I imagine the perforated metal will fit almost all my purposes.
p.s. This one also came with a split metal ring about the diameter of the cone where the perforations start. If anybody has any idea what its purpose might be, please let me know!