Pros: Beautifully strains stocks, sauces. Cone fits many pots and containers. Spillproof. Durable.
Cons: Pricey. Difficult to clean.
Some of my favorite foods are the so-called "comfort foods": ones that are long-simmered and full of flavor. An essential ingredient in many of these kinds of recipes (beef burgundy, French onion soup, chicken paprikas, etc.) is stock. Since I've never found a canned, boxed, or bottled stock that comes even remotely close to the goodness of homemade, I make both chicken and veal stock in bulk every couple months and store them in the freezer. My Cooking.com 8" Stainless Steel Chinois is an indispensable tool in my stock-making operation. Despite its steep initial cost, it's one of those tools that I now can't imagine living without.
What it is:
"Chinois" is French for "Chinese". A chinois is sometimes also called a "China cap" since its pointy shape sort of resembles the straw hats that used to be worn by Chinese peasants. The Cooking.com version is an 8"x7" stainless steel mesh cone welded to a stainless rim. An 8" stainless steel handle, whose sides are curved downward for comfort, is welded to the rim. There's also a hook (also stainless) welded to the rim across from the handle that allows you to rest the chinois over bowls or pans.
The chinois cone shape and this hook are the reasons I bought it instead of a more conventionally shaped mesh strainer. The cone shape allows it to fit into narrow pots and containers. Years ago a friend of mine in the restaurant supply business gave me a wonderful set of graduated, clear, rectangular plastic buckets with lids that I strain my stock into and throw in the fridge until the fat solidifies and can be removed. My chinois cone fits perfectly into these tall, narrow containers, as well as into a variety of saucepans and stockpots. The hook stabilizes the strainer, allowing you to press on the solids to extract the maximum amount of liquid without fear of tipping over your container.
The mesh that makes up the cone is ultra-fine, which allows you to strain out even tiny particles. This is in contrast to some other chinois designs whose cones are made of hard stainless steel perforated with small holes. I chose the mesh model because I was looking for something to strain fine sediment from stocks and other foods, and the perforated model wouldnt do this (in fact, the perforated chinois just seems like a less-practical colander to me). I was initially concerned that the mesh model might be more prone to damage. However, after almost 5 years of use I havent managed to poke a hole in it or otherwise wreck it (miraculous, considering how hard I am on some of my kitchen equipment!). I have been pretty careful with it, though: even though the mesh seems durable, I wouldnt consider using anything sharper than a wooden spoon to press solids through it.
What it does:
If I only used the chinois for straining stock itd still be worth it, but Ive found a variety of uses for it. I use my chinois for straining sauces and soups that call for removing solids (many of which also fall in that comfort food category). Its wonderful for making raspberry coulis, although your arm will get a workout from pressing the raspberries through the super-fine mesh. It also works beautifully for making the clearest consomme and aspics (but I do find that I need to supplement the chinois straining power with a layer or two of cheesecloth to obtain absolutely crystal-clear liquid).
A good mesh chinois (and I think Cooking.coms model qualifies as a very good one) is expensive. I thought it was pricey when I paid about $70 for it five years ago, but I now see that Cooking.com sells it for a whopping $99.95! (Note that although the Epinions product page says the lowest price for this product is $11.95, this price is for the wooden pestle accessory at the online store Sur La Table. Sur La Table sells a mesh chinois and stand for $69.95 but it is NOT the same one pictured on Epinions' product page). I find this pretty steep, especially since it comes with no accessories. You often see chinois sold with a metal stand to hold the strainer over bowls and/or a wooden tool similar to a pestle for pressing solids through it. Not so with this model. If youre like me though, youll justify the initial investment by figuring that the cost-per-use will be low! Also, if you do some shopping around you can probably find a comparable product for less money. I think the key to this chinois' quality and durability is its all stainless-steel construction, so if you're looking for a cheaper model, make sure it too is all-stainless.
The Cooking.com chinois also isnt dishwasher safe, which is pretty standard for specialized cooking tools. However, I find this feature especially inconvenient in my chinois because its regularly in contact with fatty stocks and sauces, leaving a greasy residue that takes multiple washings to remove. Fine particles also have a tendency to get stuck in the mesh, requiring you to soak it or flush it with water. However, this is sort of the nature of the beast, and I dont think that any other mesh chinois youll find is dishwasher safe or releases little bits of sediment easier than this one.
Nevertheless, theres no other tool in my kitchen that does what my 8 chinois does, and Id hate to be without it.