Our food maven Anna Stockwell stood across the kitchen island from her test kitchen colleague Sohla el-Waylly, watching as Sohla held aloft a small fine-mesh strainer filled with a perfume of spices. Sohla gently tapped the side of the strainer, gliding it through the air from left to right, guided by her other hand.
As Sohla moved, the spices held within the strainer began to rain down like a gently falling sandstorm over the fish fillet resting on her station. The cloud of spice blanketed the fish in the most even and precise way Anna had ever witnessed.
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That bit of kitchen choreography so entranced Anna that she insisted that I get the details from Sohla. Here they are:
Sohla first learned this trick when making family meal (a restaurant staff's shared meal, before the dinner rush) in the restaurant where she worked. "When you're seasoning 50 chicken thighs and sprinkling a spice mix on each, one by one, it takes a lot of time and you lose so much spice to the bowl," says Sohla.
So she started mixing salt and spices together and pouring the lot into a fine-mesh bar strainer. She found that the technique not only saved her time (and spices!), it also spread the seasoning mix more evenly across chicken thighs, butterflied roasts, and yes, fish fillets.
This trick works for desserts too—making a perfectly even dusting of powdered sugar, of course, but also evenly sprinkling cinnamon sugar over toast or cake, or layering cocoa over tiramisu. Essentially, this should be your move any time you need an even coating of a powdery mix.
Sohla keeps two bar strainers in her kitchen kit at all times—a fine mesh one for finely ground powders, and one with a looser mesh that allows the larger granules of kosher salt and crushed spices (as opposed to ground spices) to shake through.
Oh, yeah. One other thing it's good for: making you look like a total pro, whether you're making dinner for 50, five, or just for yourself.
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Originally Appeared on Epicurious