Published July 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
For straining stocks or sauces, we reach for a bowl-shaped fine-mesh strainer, but would a chinois, a traditional conical French sieve with ultra–finely woven mesh, give smoother results?
When a stock, sauce, or puree needs straining, most of us reach for a bowl-shaped fine-mesh strainer. Many restaurant chefs, though, prefer to use a conical, ultrafine-mesh sieve called a chinois, a traditional French kitchen tool. Would a tightly woven chinois (also called a bouillon strainer) give us smoother results? We chose three cone-shaped sieves priced from $33.78 to $118 and pitted them against our favorite round-bottomed model, the CIA Masters Collection Fine-Mesh Strainer ($27.50). We used all four to strain seeds out of pureed berries for raspberry sorbet and separate solids and bones from hot chicken stock. We soon learned that the small differences in mesh gauge didn’t matter—all were able to strain stock to a clear finish and eliminate seeds and solids from raspberry puree. What the best bouillon strainers offered were capacity and stability.
Though it was easy to use, the round CIA strainer (2¼ inches deep) was too shallow to strain all of the chicken stock at once—as was the smallest chinois, which had a short, 6-inch cone. The other two conical sieves, at 7 and 8 inches deep, allowed us to strain the whole batch of stock in a single pour. As we pressed on raspberry puree in each strainer to extract the solid particles and seeds, we discovered another advantage of the bouillon strainers, which all came equipped with L-shaped hooks opposite their long handles: The hookless CIA fine-mesh strainer had to be held still or it would shift around on top of the pot as we pressed down; the bouillon strainers, stabilized by the hooks latched onto the pots’ sides, all stayed in place, freeing both hands for pressing. The Matfer Exoglass Bouillon Strainer, which has two hooks spaced 6 inches apart, was the most stable model of all, but $118 is more than we’re ready to spend on a tool we aren’t likely to use every day. Our winner was comfortable, stable, and reasonably priced. We won’t be throwing out our more versatile and easier-to-store round strainers, but if you prepare large amounts of stock, jam, or sorbet, a roomy chinois can make the work much easier.