Last updated on February 9th, 2015
Do you have any tips on effective straining? I’m trying to make my own baby food, which requires straining pureed peas to get out the skins. The recipe calls for cheesecloth, but I’ve been rubbing the peas into a fine-mesh strainer with a spatula, and it gets the job done.
However, I’d love to hear any tips on straining food better, faster, and with less mess and drama (if that’s even possible), advice on using cheesecloth without going insane, and when you’d pick cheesecloth over a fine-mesh strainer.
Oh god, straining. It is awful, and also a good question to answer. (Tip: never read the Thomas Keller cookbooks if you have a fear of this kitchen technique.) There are a number of tools that you can use with varying degrees of splatter potential, but let’s tackle your cheesecloth query first.
Which is to say, don’t bother with it for your baby food recipes! Cheesecloth is a big pain for anything except making cheese or other related endeavors where you’re separating something extremely liquidy from something extremely solid. For thicker, more homogenous purees like the vegetable mixture you’re working with, the fine-mesh strainer method you’ve been using is a far better option. Through a lot of squeezing and squishing, you’ll eventually push the strained food sans skins through the cheesecloth, but with a lot of unnecessary effort.
The first alternative option to the strainer, which can potentially get just as messy but allows you to do more in quantity, is a food mill. With three discs for fine, medium, and coarse puree, the mill fits over a large bowl and uses a hand crank instead of a spatula to push the puree through while keeping seeds, skins, and other unsavory bits out. Though I curse the food mill every time I bring it down from its not-very-convenient corner cupboard location, I do appreciate the way I can tear through eight cups of tomato sauce or a huge pot of applesauce in no time flat.
On food tee-vee programs, you’ll often see chefs pushing purees through what’s called a tamis or drum sieve.The tamis, which fits atop a large bowl, gives you more surface area than a curved fine-mesh strainer for pushing food through, and you’ll end up with a very smooth puree. (This is how a lot of chefs, like Joel Robuchon, create the silky texture of their mashed potatoes. A heaping amount of butter also helps on that end.) When I make Keller’s chestnut puree from The French Laundry Cookbook, I use my metal splatter screen instead of buying a separate sieve, because its mesh weave is even finer than that in my strainer.
Finally, professional chefs also often turn to a chinois, which looks like a big metal ice cream cone. A chinois lets gravity do some of the work for you with its conical shape, meant to help drain the pureed liquid. With the pestle to gently push the puree through and the high walls of the chinois, in theory it should be a little less messy than the shallow strainer-and-spatula method. (I personally have not yet sprung for one of these yet either. Donations to the Ask Casey equipment fund always accepted.)
No matter which method you choose, I’m sure your little guys will thank you profusely, in their own wordless ways, for the effort. Nothing like starting them off on the good stuff early.
Need more suggestions on feeding finicky family members? Wondering what you should be doing with that juicer that’s been gathering dust in the cabinet? Send Ask Casey all the questions you’ve been hoarding: caseyATgoodfoodstoriesDOTcom.