Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's a Chinois?

A reader sent me an email recently asking what on earth I meant by "pass through a chinois" in my post on the wild boar rack. Sorry, I'm not trying to talk in code; I forget too easily that we don't all speak the same language. A chinois, pronounced SHEEN-wah, is a conical strainer. They are so useful in the kitchen that I own many of them from teacup-sized to the 16" monster farthest away in the photo.

Chinois is a loanword from French that means Chinese and likely refers to the conical hats worn in China and Asia.

There are two basic kinds of chinois as you can see in the photo above. The closest and farthest chinois in the photo are perforated metal cones, which in some kitchens are called china caps. The middle chinois has a fine wire mesh cone and is universally called a chinois in English. The French, when making the distinction and as in English, they often don't, would call the mesh chinois a chinois étamine. Mesh chinois come in coarse, fine, and double mesh, depending on the application for which you need them.

If you work in the business, you might recognize the tami root in étamine. A fine wire (and now, nylon) mesh on a hoop is called a tamis, pronounced tah-MEE. Here is one of my tamis. Besides being a great sifter, it's standard practice to force certain forcemeats for pâtés through a tamis with a flat scraper. The tamis yields a silky texture unachievable by another other means. But because using a tamis is so labor intensive, most kitchens now use high powered food processors, even though the resulting texture of the forcemeat is not quite as good.

We use the perforated metal variety, the china cap, as an all purpose strainer, especially when separating bones and mirepoix from stock. Pressing on the contents in the chinois with the bottom of a two-ounce ladle helps force all the stock through. The wire mesh variety, like its cousin the tamis, we use when we want a very smooth sauce. The wire mesh is too fine for the sauce to drain through on its own, so we force it through with a conical hardwood (beech) pestle.

Chinois are equipped with a hook on the rim opposite the handle so that they will fit over a bowl or pot while in use. You can also buy a three-legged chinois stand to support the chinois. That's just something else to get bent or lost in our kitchen. Hanging the chinois over a stock pot works just fine for us.

There you have it. More than you wanted to know about this kind of colander or strainer.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for detailing the pronunciation of these two. I have been struggling with them for some time, and with not working as a professional chef, they don't tend to pop up in everyday conversation all too often...