A chinoise is a cone-shaped sieve used to strain foods when an especially smooth texture is required. Food can be strained through the sieve, straining pulp to an even consistency while leaving solid pieces behind. Cooking enthusiasts primarily use the chinoise to make custards, sauces and stocks. It also can be used to sprinkle powdered sugar over desserts for an attractive flourish.
Typically made from stainless steel, the chinoise has a wide mouth rim with a fine mesh at the narrow end. This cone-shaped design funnels liquid and strained food through the center so that it can easily be caught in a pot or jar. Many of them come with wire stands to suspend the sieve over a pot, and others hook onto the pot’s rim.
To use the chinoise, food is placed in the open mouth and allowed to drain through. Many of these strainers come with a wooden pestle that is used to mash and strain food through the mesh, leaving behind solid bits such as skin and seeds. In the absence of a pestle, a small spatula can suffice. Metal implements should not be used, because they can pierce the mesh. The result of using a chinoise is a liquid of smooth, even consistency.
When one is selecting a chinoise, it is worth considering extra features such as stands and pestles. Cooks might notice the arm strain of holding the sieve over a pot or jar, and exertion increases as food gets strained through the mesh. A simple hook or stand will make the job much easier. If no pestle is included, one will need to be purchased separately for the chinoise to be used to maximum effect.
The chinoise is not a cheap utensil, and many casual cooks will struggle to justify the price. In many cases, more conventional strainers or cheesecloth will suffice, especially when used only on rare occasions. It does, however, fill a role that other sieves cannot match, and serious cooking enthusiasts might feel hampered by its absence.
There is some confusion regarding the utensil’s name. "Chinoise" is a French word, the feminine form of Chinese, a reference to the conical hats worn by Chinese peasants. Often, the device is referred to as the masculine "chinois." The term is sometimes used to refer to a conical sieve with bored holes as well, but most cooks refer to this device as a China cap. Some use these terms interchangeably, which can sometimes lead to confusion.