“Quick!” your friend exclaims, rushing to the sink with dripping hands. “Hand me that concave vessel with the holes all over it so I can rinse this food!” But do you hand her a colander, a sieve, a strainer, a drainer, a chinois, a skimmer or something else? Well, that depends on what she’s rinsing, how she likes to work and the words you two prefer.
Sieves, colanders, strainers — aren’t these all the same thing?
Eh, kind of? They’re all bowl-shaped vessels with holes throughout their surfaces, making them useful for draining and straining.
The thing that most of us call a colander looks like the images above and immediately below:
What most of us call a sieve looks like the image below, but you might also call these strainers or drainers. If it had a pointy end, you’d call it a chinois.
Okay, so what makes them different?
Colanders have fewer holes and are made of sturdy materials like stainless steel or silicone; meanwhile, the surface of a sieve is typically mesh, so it’s lighter and more delicate. In fact, sometimes the mesh can be so fine that you’ll need to press the material you’re straining through it with a spatula.
Aside from that, it really comes down to stability. Colanders usually have handles on both sides of the top of the bowl and a footed base. You can set a colander down on the counter or in the sink and walk away without worrying it’ll topple over, scattering your just-rinsed grapes everywhere.
Sieves, on the other hand, usually have just one handle and no base. You’ll need to hold onto a sieve while you use it, usually over a sink or a pot. Some sieves are even designed with small helper handles that latch onto the top of a larger pot or bowl, so you can rest the sieve over the thing you’re straining into.
So when do I use a colander instead of a sieve?
Reach for a colander when you’re washing produce or straining cooked food, like pasta or potatoes. Grab a sieve for more delicate tasks like rinsing raw grains of rice, straining little egg bits out of a custard or pouring a tisane.
This is not to say, of course, that you can’t use a sieve for most jobs you’d use a colander for. There’s really no reason you can’t rinse a handful of berries in a sieve, and I suppose you could even dump some al dente noodles into one if you were in a pinch. But if you’re straining hollandaise sauce for eggs Benedict, a colander isn’t going to cut it. So maybe, all sieves are also colanders but not all colanders are sieves? Except for this one, which blows my theory to smithereens.
Sur La Table Resources
If you’re in the market for a colander or sieve (or a strainer or drainer or chinois), you’ll find plenty to choose from over here.