* Prices may differ from that shown
~Eating and Shopping~
When I get together with my friend Gill for dinner after work, we generally combine food with a little bit of retail therapy. We meet at the Cheshire Oaks outlet village which is located between where I work and where she lives. After stuffing ourselves with food, we typically stroll around our favourite shops and invariably end up in the cookware shops. In the Viners/Oneida store it became a joke that I repeatedly made lustful noises about a collapsible colander but refused to ever buy it because it was stupidly expensive (about £15) and I don't actually like colanders very much. I much prefer strainers.
What's the difference, I hear you ask as well you might. It's taken me a while to work it out, not being exactly classically trained in the kitchen arts. I would describe a strainer as being like a colander but with a handle, or like a sieve but better designed to handle hot, wet stuff. I suspect that most people don't get very excited about sieves, strainers and colanders, pulling them out of the cupboard only when the bulk of the cooking is done. Some people don't bother at all - my grandmother could strain a pan of veg using the pan lid but I suspect she had asbestos fingers and I really don't recommend trying it yourself.
~Sieves, colanders and strainers~
Sieves are not meant for straining - they are (the clue is in the name) for sieving. Taking the lumps out of flour or other powdered ingredients and introducing some more air into the flour to help give your cake a 'lift' are the tasks right up the street of your average sieve. Colanders by contrast are ideal for separating cooked food from hot water, but they usually need to sit in the base of your sink rather than being held over the sink unless you don't mind risking your fingers and you've got someone handy to hold the colander whilst you pour. The last thing I want to do when I'm about to dish up, is to run around finding somewhere to put the washing up bowl so I can get access to the sink to stand the colander solidly on the base of the sink.
What you need is a strainer - a device with a handle to hold it, and lots of holes to let the water through and catch the pasta, rice, veg or whatever you've just cooked. A strainer is a bit like a colander with a handle. If your pan isn't too heavy, this means one person on their own can hold the strainer in one hand, the pan in the other, and strain the food without fuss. What you *might* need if your kitchen is short on space is a collapsible strainer - one that will quietly squash down and take up very little space until the next time that you need it.
~Collapsing - is it really necessary?~
I have both a collapsible and a non collapsible strainer and both are made by Kitchen Craft. The non-collapsible on is called a 'flexible silicone 19 cm strainer' and I have reviewed it here before. That one is made of soft squishy silicone, and doesn't need any clever squashy-technology because it's so soft that it will naturally flatten to be as thin as you want it to be.
My collapsible one was bought for my other kitchen in the flat where I live during the week. I have a lot less space there and I'm a lot less willing to spend on good kitchen gear. If you are not constrained for space, don't have the urge to buy stuff just because you think it might be 'clever; then my suggestion would be to ignore this gimmicky collapsible item and go for the regular flexible strainer.
From the tip of the handle to the opposite edge of the strainer the collapsible item measures just over 40cm. The diameter at the widest part is 22 cm but it's generally positioned as a 19 cm strainer because that's the width of the inside at its widest part. It's about 9 cm deep so it will hold quite a lot of food - certainly plenty for a family of two or three but if you're cooking for more or are cooking a large amount of food, it may not be big enough.
The handle of mine is bright pink and is silicone for the most part. This means it has a nice rubbery grip and will protect you from heat. Then there's a grey outer supporting ring of grey plastic. This doesn't appear to be particularly heat proof and I would see this as a downside to this item compared to the other one I've described before. On the other hand, I like that this has a wide rim that helps you to balance it on top of a saucepan that may be larger than the strainer itself. There's a wide band of heavy duty bright pink silicone between the grey support ring and the base which contains the straining holes. This pink silicone does not have any holes in it and seems to exist only to aid the collapsing of the item and to make it pretty. I again, suggest to skip the collapsing version and go with the other as it strains more thoroughly and completely.
The hole pattern is quite fun with the holes arrayed in a flower-like design in the base and with larger holes around the perimeter. On the underside of the strainer it has little non-slip bands and a hard ridge of plastic which means it could stand on its own in a sink without collapsing. This is the one area where the collapsible strainer beats its competitor. On the soft silicone strainer you have to stand the strainer back over the saucepan or a bowl to stop everything falling out.
Squashing the strainer to collapse it is easy. Hold the grey rim in the space between your thumb and first finger, put your other fingers on the base and squeeze - it pops satisfyingly into place. To pop it out again just hold the rim and push on the pink rubber to pop out the base.
~Price and Colours~
Kitchen Craft products come in a range of bright colours - blue, orange, lime green, pink, purple and red. You can get one of these on Amazon for £6.58 compared to £10.95 for the softer non-collapse version. If you're interested, there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding which to go for:
1. Speed of straining - the soft version is faster and needs less of a shake due to having holes all over - but does it matter? How much of a hurry are you in?
2. Quantity of food you cook - for a smaller family, the collapsible might be fine but the soft silicone one has a slightly bigger capacity.
3. Do you need to stand the strainer in the base of the sink or on the kitchen surface? If so you'll be better with the collapsible on as it will stand up on its own.
4. how much space you have - both will be quite good at squeezing into a tight spot - whether you like to stand it