Strainers come in many shapes and sizes. But what are strainers used for?
Strainers are used for separating solids from liquids, steaming vegetables, deep-frying, sifting flour, dusting powdered sugar or cocoa on desserts, creating smooth consistencies needed for custards, sauces, and preserves, straining pulp out of soups, etc. There’re many other uses of strainers too.
Let’s now talk about the different types of strainers and which one you should choose for your culinary needs.
How Many Types Of Strainers Are There?
Many people think of a strainer as any bowl-shaped tool with holes at the bottom.
This definition adds many random things to the list, like potato ricers, salad spinners, and food mills.
We’ll keep our topic focused on general-use strainers and break down the other types later.
We’ll discuss colanders, mesh sieves, chinois, and spiders in detail.
All of these have many uses and can make cooking much easier and more efficient.
What Are Colanders Used For?
Colanders are probably the first thing you picture when you hear the word “strainer.”
They’re the most basic type—just a metal or plastic bowl with hundreds of tiny holes punched in.
You usually use a colander to strain pasta after cooking; you can also wash fresh fruits and vegetables in it since the bowl size is quite large.
Draining canned vegetables and giving them a rinse in a colander will also help you get rid of excess sodium. All the better!
Most colanders made of metal come with a base that helps them stand on their own, making them perfect for use as make-shift steamer baskets.
Just put your colander inside a pot with an inch of simmering water, cover it, and voila!
You have perfect steamed broccoli in five minutes.
Unfortunately, colanders aren’t suited for separating finer particles. For this, you’ll need the following type of strainers.
What Are Mesh Strainers (Sieves) Used For?
A mesh strainer also called a fine-mesh sieve, is a more refined form of the sieve.
They’re made of a solid rim of metal attached to the handle and a curved piece of wire or nylon mesh.
Mesh sieves are the jack-of-all-trades of the strainer universe.
They can do what a colander does, but they also have the added benefit of smaller openings.
You can use a fine-mesh strainer to sift the flour to aerate it before making batters and doughs.
Additionally, you can accomplish the professional-looking dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa on desserts as well.
And, of course, you can use them to strain pulpy bits out of soups and smoothies.
More unusual uses for mesh strainers are cheese-making, using them to make perfectly-shaped poached eggs, and this simple but brilliant use: straining citrus juice to catch any stray seeds!
The best thing about mesh strainers is that they can come in sets of different sizes, making them more versatile and easy to grab when you’re in the middle of a recipe.
What Is A Chinois Strainer Used For?
Chinois strainers are a bit of a fancy piece of kitchen equipment.
In fact, they’re more often found in professional kitchens than in regular households.
A chinois is basically an ultra-fine mesh sieve that’s conical in shape.
Most of them are double-lined with wire or nylon mesh to ensure a smooth, luxurious mouthfeel for soups, custards, and fruit preserves passed through such tiny openings.
A pestle-like pounding device usually comes with a good-quality chinois to pass most of the purees through it.
However, this process can take time and some elbow grease, depending on how smooth your food processor or blender pulverizes the food.
Some people reserve their chinois to strain stocks, broths, and soups.
In this case, you’ll only need the back of a spoon to pass most of the liquid through.
What Is A Spider Strainer Used For?
If you’ve ever watched one of those very popular street-food videos, where the cooks are handling multiple woks over open flames, you’ve probably seen a “spider” as their tool of choice.
The fascinating spider strainer gets its name from the pattern of the wires forming it, which looks like a spider web.
It’s usually made of a very long bamboo handle to which fine wires in the shape of a bowl are attached.
This is a true multi-purpose tool, as you can use a spider to deep fry, poach, and stir things around a pot.
You can use it to drain pasta or blanch vegetables.
It’s also used as a skimmer for fat from broths and stews since “skimmer” is another name for it!
Are There Any Other Types of Strainers?
There are many other sieves on the market; some are single-task gimmicks.
However, some are very useful and well worth their price and the space they take up.
Boiling baskets come in handy if you want to drop a couple of servings of uncooked pasta in boiling water, then lift the basket to drain.
And salad spinners, especially collapsible ones, make for a less-soggy salad.
You also won’t have your dressing watered down with the excess moisture from wet greens.
Food mills are another type of strainer with a long history of use in the kitchen.
They help break down and puree vegetables and fruits.
For example, they make for an amazing tomato sauce or apple sauce since they separate the pulp from seeds and skins.
This is what our great-grandmas probably used before electric blenders were invented!
Last but not least, there’re potato ricers, which are an ingenious contraption in their own right.
They help you make the smoothest, creamiest mashed potatoes by breaking them down into rice-grain-sized bits.
Then, you can easily incorporate butter and milk, stir, and have a delicious mashed potato side dish in minutes.
Interesting Further Reading: Can A Glass Bowl Be Used For A Double Boiler? | What Can Be Used Instead Of A Double Boiler? | What Is A Double Boiler Method? | Can A Stainless Steel Bowl Go In An Oven? | Are Cast Iron Woks Good?
Which Type Of Strainer Should You Have In Your Kitchen?
Every home cook has priorities when it comes to cooking equipment.
But in the end, the choices you make boil down to your skill level, storage space, and favorite dishes.
If it’s unthinkable for you to own one piece of every type of sieve we mentioned above, we recommend you go for the choice that can double-task and give you more functionality for the price or space it occupies.
For example, you can easily replace a colander with a medium or large-sized mesh sieve, but not vice versa.
A mesh strainer or chinois can also replace a food mill or potato ricer; they just need a lot more muscle to push your sauces and mashes through.
And a colander or mesh sieve can completely replace a steamer basket.
One item that’s difficult to substitute for is a bamboo-handled spider skimmer or strainer.
It just takes multi-tasking to a whole new level with its long, heat-proof handle, perfect size, and ability to be used for many different applications, like frying, poaching, or simple straining.
So, take note of your storage space, what you usually reach for in the kitchen, and the recipes you choose to cook.
And hopefully, you can make better decisions regarding which sieve is best for your needs based on the information we provided.