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The right tool makes sauce a snap

September 3rd, 2007 · 41 Comments · Food preparation, Tools

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!

This chinois has the conical sieve and a compatibly shaped wood pestle Susan’s mom’s chinois on its stand with pestle

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.

Tomatoes, etc., in pan, whole, for sauce-making The raw materials in the pan; aren’t they pretty?

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:

Potato masher applied to tomato mixture

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 mixture before applying the pestle is full of seeds and skin The mixture before the mashing

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.

Tomato solids ooze from perforated cone The tomato solids exit the cone

The skins etc. remain inside the cone and stuck to the pestle Although it doesn’t show up well here, skins, seeds, and leaf bits remain inside the cone

The finished tomato sauce The finished sauce: smooth and flavorful

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!

ADDENDUM: According to the Food Dictionary my tool, as noted in comments below, is not a chinois. It presumably, therefore, indeed is a china cap. Either way, it’s a great tool!

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41 Comments so far ↓

  • Diane

    Oh my, my mother had one and we used it constantly. She called it a ricer. I think we used it for potatoes. Now, of course, I have no idea what happened to it. I think that we should start looking at garage sales for the old ones. Thank you, thank you. D

  • Janet Majure

    Interesting. I did a Google images search on “ricer” and did find one place that call such a thing a ricer. My mother’s ricer looked like a giant garlic press, such as these ricers on Amazon.com. Still, I guess the effect is the same, and I think I’d still choose the chinois (vs. the giant garlic press type) for the ease of use and cleanup.

  • Maxine

    Much better than a Cuisinart! And BEAUTIFUL pictures too!

  • Janet Majure

    Hey, thanks, Maxine. I’d have to say, though, I was glad for the Cuisinart in making the pesto in today’s post!

  • Susan

    So glad the chinois is a hit! I know Mother would be pleased to know it’s found a good home where someone will actually use it. The photos are fantastic, and I’ll bet the sauce tastes delicious. Bon appetit!

  • Janet Majure

    Thanks, Susan. I’ll think of you and Edith every time I use it.

  • Michele

    Don’t hate me, but this is not a chinoise. It’s a China cap. Only the fine mesh one is called a chinoise.

    • Jeff

      No hate, Michele. :) I’m just driven to clarity.

      The tool actually is a chinois with a pestle. It is also called a China cap, although I’m not certain the regionality of that name. I suspect it is New English or Southeast US. “Chinois” is French for “Chinese.” Other names are: conical sieve, conical food press, and ricer (conical ricer).

  • Janet Majure

    Well, Michele, you’re the culinary school grad, so I’ll take your word on it (and keep an eye out for a good reference book). And chinoise is it, with an “e”? Lucky for you, I’m always interested to learn more.

  • Liz Schmidt

    I have one and it is a wonderful tool. Have used it for years. Perhaps the extra ring is for holding a jelly bag or cheesecloth in place for even finer straining.

  • Janet Majure

    I’ll bet you’re right, Liz. Another thing for me to explore.

  • T

    The metal ring is for holding a jelly bag or layers of cheesecloth onto the chinois. It’s for jelly making.

    I have a very, very old chinois and hardwood pestle, and use it throughout the year for juicing and jelly making.

  • john

    Looks like a china cap to me not a chinois

    • Jeff

      Hi John. This has been clarified, but just for the record, a “chinois” and “Chinese cap” are the same critter. “Chinous” is French for “Chinese.”

      It appears to be a regional thing.

  • Janet Majure

    Hi, T. Thanks for stopping. Jelly bag holder seems to be the consensus.

    And, John, as per Michele a few comments up, I’m sure you’re right. Maybe I should go in and add a note to that affect in the post. Thanks!

  • Joanne S.

    My mother passed away earlier this year and I received all her kitchen tools. I just located what she called her “ricer” as it was a regular in our Thanksgiving meal preparation. It’s the perfect tool for making great cranberry sauce. The one in your photo and its pestle is exactly like the one I have, which my mother received as a wedding gift in 1952. Enjoy!

  • Janet Majure

    So sorry about your mother, Joanne S. It’s nice that you have her tools to keep her with you, figuratively speaking. As you can see in Diane’s comment (#1) above, “ricer” evidently isn’t an unusual term for this item, although I think of ricers as those tools that look rather like giant garlic presses!

  • ChristineMM

    I love my chinois. Was researching today to see if I could use it instead of buying a jelly bag for jelly making.

    Mine is a high quality one with fine screens. It is fantastic for making meat and veg stocks, strain and it comes out clear, all the little bits are held back.

    I wanted to share that there are a variety on the market. Some are wide screened and not good. I advice a high quality one.

    Also a ricer has wider holes, not the same as a chinois, two different things with different uses.

    For example there is no way on Earth potatoes could go through my chinois.

    Great post.

  • Yolanda Phillips

    I’m using one today just like in the picture…my mom used it for authenic mexican tamales back in the old days. It makes the red chile sauce so smooth when pressed through without seeds and skin. I want to share this with all my fellow tamale makers because this makes them so moist & delicious; making the sweet tamales too. Happy Holidays!

  • Dr. Jo

    We call ours a ricer, too, and mine has to be at least 60 years old. Grandma used it to porcess fruit to take out skins and seeds for tomato sauce, grape & balck/raspberry jelly, apple butter/sauce, etc.

    She never used it to rice potatoes, tho’. She just mashed them with one of those old-fashioned (squiggly) potato mashers.

  • Elva Delgado

    Just reading posts after researching this tool. Found one in my mom’s shed, brainstormed about possible uses. I think I will keep it after reading all these posts, can’t wait to tell my sisters come tamale time!

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  • donna

    i love that ricer i trying to find that one my mom had one we made apple suace and use it for pumpkin pie if you know whee i can get one like that please let me now
    donna

  • Lynne Bauma

    Here’s a great way to make gravy with the chinois: simmer 1 lg onion, 4-5 stalks celery, and 3 big carrots (all cut large) along with chicken giblets in a pan along with chicken broth (I use about 28-32 oz.) for about 20 minutes or until veggies are soft. Mash the veggies through the chinois keeping the broth along with the mashed veggies. Pour sieved results back into the pan and bring to a boil. Mix 1/2 stick soft butter along with enough flour to make a thick paste. As the liquid simmers, add spoonfuls of the flour paste to the broth and wisk quickly as you add. Continue to simmer on low until mixture is mixed well and thickens. This is the best gravy and never fails.

  • Sharon

    I am wondering what stores can I find the chinois? I couldn’t find it at Target or Walmart or even Bed, Bath & Beyond.

  • Helene Plourde

    I was looking for the value of a vintage ricer on EBAY and one thing led to another. I found this item and now know what it is used for. I’ve had this “chinois/china cap” and lots of other old kitchen items for many years. Can’t wait to use it!

  • Ann Katherine Richards

    Do you know where to get a replacement pestle? :)

  • Jeff

    I honestly did not read the comments, but I noted that some misinformed commenter(s) have caused you to question the true identity of your kitchen tool. It is in fact a chinois. Another name for it is “Chinese cap,” however it is important to note that “chinois” is French for “Chinese.”

    I wanted to thank you too for your article. I searched for months for a used chinois similar to the one you acquired. The cheapest I could find was $20 or more. I just could not justify spending so much on a hand tool. When I found your article, I was making a last ditch effort to find one, and discovered one in an auction lot of other items. It cost me $4 dollars, AND also in the box I acquired two vintage coffee pots that appraise for over $100 each. Pay out! And, I owe it in part to you. Thanks.

    • Janet Majure

      Congratulations, Jeff, on your purchases, and thanks for your nice comments. Would you shop for me? ;-)

      Meanwhile, I’ll leave to others to solve the nomenclature debate. It’s a great tool, whatever you call it!

  • Another Susan

    I inherited my mother’s; she passed it along when she remarried and inherited her mother-in-law’s. I remember her using it to make and can dozens of jars of the most wonderful applesauce. She didn’t use it for potatoes; they were “whipped” in the Mixmaster. I have used it for all sorts of things: applesauce, pumpkin, tomatoes, strained broth, etc. It really is a versatile tool.

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