1.10.10 Chinoiserie

Chinois 790 xxx
photo by george billard
I once read somewhere that were he to come back as a kitchen tool (literally), David Chang would want to be a chinois. So called because of it’s alleged resemblance to the straw hat worn by the Chinese, the chinois (or chinoise) is an elegant little device that will elevate your sauces and soups to a new level of sophistication. This conical sieve with an extremely fine mesh is used to strain out the very smallest particles from custards, purees, soups and sauces, thus producing a smooth, velvety texture. It’s a rather expensive tool, not to be confused with the cheaper “China cap,” which has much larger holes. The chinois usually comes with a dowel that looks a bit like a pointy pestle, which is what you use to work soft foods through the mesh. It lets you easily press every last bit of juice and flavor from the solids. Some chinois come with a stand that is useful for holding it upright over a pot or bowl. Try using your chinois next time you’re making stock, pureed soup, jelly or custard. You will be shocked (pleasantly) by how refined the texture becomes and, because you can press on any remaining solids, you will notice a deeper, more intense flavor.
Over the summer, my English friend Sarah asked me to make her a classic English-style rice pudding. I think it would be even nicer now, when it's cold out, because it's a very cozy dessert. This simple version is baked rather than made on the stovetop, so it's incredibly easy to throw together. Since I happened to have some fresh red currants on hand at the time, I made this scarlet sauce to go with it. It provides a bright counterpoint to the creamy pudding and the colors look gorgeous together. If you can’t find red currants (fresh or frozen), you can make the sauce with all raspberries or blackberries or a combination. I think it would also be delicious with a blob of lemon curd on top.

English Rice Pudding

serves 4
  • — 1 tablespoon butter
  • — 1/2 cup short grain rice, uncooked
  • — 2 cups milk
  • — 1 cup cream
  • — 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • — generous pinch salt
  • — 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • — whole nutmeg for grating

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and stir to coat lightly. Add milk, cream, superfine sugar and salt. Bring to a low boil, then simmer for a few minutes. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture into a small, lightly buttered casserole or oven-proof dish and grate a thin dusting of nutmeg on top. Place into a bain marie* and cook for 90 minutes. Serve with red currant sauce.

*A bain marie is a water bath. It just means you need to bake the rice in a dish that will fit inside a bigger pan which can be filled with water. The water should come about halfway up the sides of the rice dish.

Download recipe  Download Recipe

Red Currant Sauce

Frozen berries work fine. If using all raspberries or blackberries, add a tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice and/or a teaspoon of lemon zest. This sauce is also delicious with angel food cake.
  • — 2 cups fresh red currants (1/2 pound), stemmed
  • — 2 cups fresh raspberries
  • — 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • salt

Stir together currants, raspberries, sugar and large pinch salt in a medium saucepan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until fruit breaks down, about 10 minutes. Force through a chinois into a bowl and cool. Discard solids.

Download recipe  Download Recipe


I love this post and I truly understand an obsession with kitchen utensils. For with the right tool, cooking fabulous food becomes fantastically easy. II, for one, would come back as an immersion blender. This sleek device allows me to whip up home-made soup (with any ingredients wilting away in my fridge) in a matter of minutes. It gives high pace to slow food, and I don't know what I would do without it. http://tinyurl.com/yabk4hf Love your blog and looking forward to keeping up with it regularly. Reader for life.
sodiumgirl on January 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm —
Thanks for your input! I do love my immersion blender, which also has comes with two handy attachments—a whisk and a mini food processor. It makes whipping cream so easy! I look forward to checking out your blog.
laura on January 18, 2010 at 5:51 pm —
My Scottish grandmother made this every Sunday lunch. She made merangues, (beat 4 egg whites till stiff and slowly add 8oz of superfine sugar) and spooned it on top during the last twenty minutes of cooking. It was the quintessential English sweet dessert.
Madisonmom on December 2, 2015 at 10:21 am —