Equipment Corner: Chinois, China Caps, and Tamis
There are many varieties of chinois to choose from, depending on what size you need and what you can afford. Personally, I have three different sizes…a small, medium, and large. But let’s start by answering the first question you may be asking…what the heck is chinois?
Chinois, pronounced SHin-waa, is a cone-shaped sieve made of closely woven or extremely fine mesh. It’s similar to a strainer you’d use to separate pasta and water, but what makes a chinois particular is the fine mesh.
Chinois can be used for the following tasks…
- Strain custards, purees, soups, and sauces to produce a very smooth texture.
- Strain infused oils separating the oil from the infusion.
- Strain natural coloring from vegetables like beets.
- Dust food with a fine layer of a powdered ingredient such as powdered sugar over cake.
A similar utensil is the China cap. Like a chinois, a China cap is also a cone shaped strainer but the holes are much larger than those in a chinois. Instead of producing a smooth texture, China caps give you a coarser final product and can be used to separate larger matter, like seeds, from soft foods.
Both of these cone shaped devices are commonly used with a cone-shaped pestle. The pestle tip is used to push, roll, and squish the food through the mesh or holes so that you don’t lose a drop. If you don’t have a pestle, you can use a small ladle or other instrument to get all the soft food through.
Another related tool is a tamis. Tamis, pronounced like “tammy”, also uses fine mesh to strain or redistribute foods. Unlike the chinois and China cap, a tamis is round with the mesh on the bottom. Think of a pie plate with a mesh bottom. Instead of a pestle, food is pushed through the bottom of a tamis with a flat scraper or spatula.
You’d use a tamis when making a savory pate or mousse. Bakers especially love this tool for evenly sifting dry ingredients over sweet treats, but I’ve also used the tamis when steaming couscous and asian dumplings.
Bottom line, my vote is for the chinois when you want that sexy, silky, smooth sauce texture. If you can only buy one size of chinois, I suggest you go for the medium or large. That will allow you to strain both large amounts and small.
If you don’t already have one, your best bet, is to visit your local restaurant supply store to get your smallwares. The quality is very good and reasonably priced when it comes to these essentials:
- Mixing bowls
- Sheet pans
- Pots and pans
- Temperature gages
- Bakeware items.
Where is your favorite place to purchase kitchen equipment? Any recommendations for the rest of the jungle? Let me know below, in the comments section, or on my Facebook page, Chef Gerrie’s Chef Gerrie!