How to Choose a Chinois

Chinois

A while ago, during Thanksgiving, I was reading Michael Ruhlman’s blog.  In the comments section, someone asked what distinguished a good chinois from a bad one.  It was late at night and I had work early in the morning, so I wrote a freaking essay in response to the question (I have problems).  Anyway, I’m going to be lazy here and copy and paste the question and my response here.  Don’t be too angry at me for recycling please.

Without further ado:

Semi-related question:

Does anyone have any insight on what distinguishes a good chinois from a bad one, for the purposes of stock, etc.? Is it simply a matter of getting what you pay for?

DJK,

As far as a chinois goes, it (unfortunately) really may come down to how much you pay. For straining stocks, sauces, purees, etc. you want a fine mesh. A fine mesh ensures that all the tiny bits and particles (bits of fat and coagulated blood in stock, fibers and cellulose from fruit and veg purees, etc.) get caught, especially if you’re trying to make a very clean, refined soup or sauce (carrot soup, for instance). In my experience (I prowl the aisles of every store that sells kitchen gadgets for fun. I lead a sad existence.), the “best,” finest-meshed chinois (what’s the plural form of “chinois”???) are found in high-end kitchen gear stores (Williams-Sonoma, for example). Other chinois that I have come across have mesh that isn’t nearly fine enough for my tastes, and some even had fairly large-sized holes rather than a mesh.
But don’t worry. You have options. Unless you’re set on getting a chinois (which are pretty expensive), you can find fairly good metal strainers with a decently fine mesh that can substitute for a chinois. I bought a fairly good one at an asian grocery store for 9 bucks. It doesn’t work as quickly as a chinois, but I was willing to make that sacrifice.
Alternatively, you can use any combination of layers of cheesecloth, a clean bandana or handkerchief ($1 or less at arts and crafts stores), or coffee filters to achieve the same or a similar effect. Obviously, just be sure to remove as many of the larger particles before attempting to strain through cloth or filter, since they can get clogged quickly, which kills your attempts at straining.
Remember to never push the liquid through, to force it to strain faster. If you think about it, pushing (with a ladle, spoon, or spatula, etc) may force those particles through the mesh, which completely defeats the purpose of trying to strain your liquid in the first place. This is another reason why I didn’t buy the $70 chinois (too expensive for my poor ass) at Williams-Sonoma — it came with a wooden, cone-shaped . . . thing. The instructions on it said to push your liquid through with the wooden thing (it looked more like an awkward and painful sex toy more than anything), which is so obviously wrong to me (on many, many levels).
Get a strainer or chinois of a sensible size. Make sure it is not too small, large enough for your purposes (which may not be apparent until you start using it), and not so large as to be cumbersome and awkward (a chinois is too large and awkward for my small and awkward kitchen).
Finally, buy what makes sense to you. Buy what is most useful first and decide whether or not it is worth the extra expense on a higher-end, finer item. This applies for every item in your kitchen. For me, this means a $15 non-stick skillet (mostly for eggs. I’ve had it for 3 years and there’s hardly a scratch on it.), a 12″ cast iron skillet (less than $10 at a yard sale and I wouldn’t sell it for less than $100), and a 10″ All-Clad copper core fry pan / sauteuse ($185). This also means an $8 serrated knife from Amazon.com and a 285 dollar 10″ Shun Kaji chef’s knife (good Lord, I wish I got kickbacks for name-dropping/advertising). And obviously, as I mentioned, this means using a combination of a clean handkerchief inside a fine mesh bowl-shaped strainer (I use binder clips to hold the cloth in place). I think I get pretty good results.

Apologies for the wordiness. I have a problem.

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