What Is a Chinois Strainer?

A Guide to Buying and Using a Chinois Strainer

Illustration: Ellen Lindner. © The Spruce, 2019 

What is a chinois strainer, and how does it compare to other kitchen items? Read on and learn more about the purpose of a chinois and how it can serve you in the meal-making process.

Simply put, a chinois is a cone-shaped metal strainer with a very fine mesh. Also known as a china cap, a chinois is used for straining stocks, sauces, soups, and other items that need to have a very smooth consistency. If you're making raspberry puree, for example, you'll need a strainer of some sort to get rid of the seeds. The same goes for the seeds in jams or the bone fragments in stock.

While amateur cooks typically use a standard strainer, chinois sieves are the preferred device of professional chefs. Why? These traditional French cooking tools are more effective at ridding foods of seeds and other solid bits, making for a smooth finish.

How Chinois Sieves Are Used

A chinois (pronounced shin-wah) is sometimes used with a wooden pestle which is pressed into the food, working it through the mesh of the chinois. The object is similar to a china cap, which has the same conical shape as a chinois but is made of perforated metal rather than mesh.

The terms chinois and china cap are sometimes used interchangeably, but they're technically two different tools. Like the chinois, the china cap is also sometimes used with a wooden pestle to push the food through it.

How Much Do These Strainers Cost?

Generally, chinois sieves range in price from the upper teens to up to $40. On average, expect to spend at least $30 on this culinary device. The fact that chinois strainers don't break the bank mean that if you're an amateur cook, you can likely afford to shell out the dough to pay for the objects and decide for yourself whether they're worth your hard-earned money or if a traditional strainer will better serve your needs.

These strainers may cost as little as $4 and up to about $10, so clearly a chinois sieve is triple or quadruple the price. But if you're preparing a special dish and can afford to splurge, there's no real reason to opt against the higher-priced sieve. 

A sieve isn't necessarily about showing off a fancy tool in your kitchen. It may also make the work of eliminating seeds, fragments, and other solids from fruit, stocks, and other food less labor-intensive for you. If you rarely make stock and the like from scratch, a chinois sieve may not be worth the investment. Before buying one, ask yourself how often you're likely to use it. If you doubt you'll put the device to use more than a few times a year–or not even that much–you'll probably want to pass.