No plug at your kitchen counter? (Or no kitchen counter at all? We feel you, apartment dwellers.) No problem. Use a chinois—the old-school, no-electricity way to break down food—for sauces and soups instead.
Chinois is the name the French gave to this cone-shaped tool; it looked to them like the hats Chinese immigrants wore in the 19th century. We don’t recommend wearing a chinois on your head, though, unless you have cleaned it very, very well.
There’s some confusion as to the difference between the chinois and the China cap. The item featured in our video above, for example, came in a box labeled “chinois,” but a classically trained French chef would likely call this a China cap, due to its relatively large metal holes. The chinois, he would say, has extremely fine mesh holes. And he would be technically right.
We say “chinois” should apply to all cone-shaped strainers; sometimes you’ll need one with finer holes, sometimes you’ll need one with bigger holes, but they’re both chinoises. Also: SHEEN-WA! Much more fun to say than “China cap.” The best ones come in a set that includes a stand to help anchor the cone over a bowl (to catch whatever you’re straining) and a pestle to help push through more substantial ingredients, such as the tomatoes in our video.
The kinds of things a chinois can help you make? A fine one will help remove fat and other solids from homemade stocks. It will also help you get silky smooth soups, sauces, and custards. A chinois with larger holes will help you break down ingredients for soups or sauces, and it paves the way to super-fluffy mashed potatoes—just use it in place of a ricer.
Now, go! SHEEN-WA!