Applesauce. Mashed potatoes. Homemade tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes. These are all things you can make with a food mill. What is a food mill – sometimes called a rotary food mill? Simply put, it’s a manual kitchen appliance that allows you to simultaneously mash and strain softer food items into a puree.
Do I Need a Food Mill?
People often wonder if food mills are better than ricers or food processors. We like to answer with the principle of equifinality. Equifinality is just a fancy word for the same result coming from different processes. In other words, you can get the same result from using a food mill as with other kitchen tools.
That being said, food mills are the fastest, easiest, and most efficient way to get a uniform puree. In other words, food mills are worth investing in.
Still, if you don’t have a food mill on hand for a recipe that calls for it and you need it right now, don’t dismay! Here are eight food mill substitutes to try out. If you don’t have one on hand, chances are you have another from the list.
1. Food Processor & Sieve
A food processor is probably the best food mill substitute – especially if you combine it with a sieve, such as a fine mesh strainer.
Food processors are great if you’re trying to shred or pulverize harder foods – think carrots or nuts. But they are also fantastic at blending and pureeing softer foods into a homogenized mixture.
What food processors aren’t always great at is eliminating all lumps, not to mention things like seeds. So when using a food processor in lieu of a food mill, you may wish to grab a kitchen sieve afterward to strain the mixture.
2. Blender & Sieve
Depending on what you’re trying to puree, a blender could be used in place of a food mill. Blenders are, by nature, meant for mixtures that are more liquid than solid. Have you ever had a smoothie that needed more liquid added to “un-stick” your blender?
This is due to the construction of blenders and the ratio of food-to-blade and solid-to-liquid. Whereas a food processor is more horizontal, meaning food can be more evenly distributed and blended uniformly, blenders have more vertical space, which can create what’s called “cavitation” – or air bubbles.
What’s the point? We don’t recommend making “sticky” mixtures that are on the dryer side (think mashed potatoes) in a blender. What will likely happen is that air bubbles will form and the blade will spin without doing any pureeing.
3. Potato Ricer
Have you ever used a garlic press? Potato ricers are similar, but about twenty times as large! They’re often used to make mashed potatoes or German-style potato dumplings (Kartoffelkloesse).
Ricers are designed so that you can put cooked potatoes inside, skin-on, and get a fluffy, soft, uniform potato mash with no skin.
Potato ricers can be used in a myriad of other ways, including as a pureeing tool! Just put whatever you want to mash up inside, press down, et voilà! Try using one with roasted tomatoes skin-on when making scratch sauce!
4. Spoon and Mesh Strainer
We’ve talked about using a blender or food processor followed by a sieve, AKA mesh strainer. But you might be wondering – do I even need to blend my food first? The answer is maybe not.
This method of mashing food and straining it is best if you’re trying to remove the seeds and peelings from a mixture, resulting in a finely textured mash.
If the food you’re attempting to puree or mash is soft enough (for instance, a berry coulis), you can likely skip the blending or processing part and use a medium-sized wooden spoon or metal spoon to press the mixture into the strainer, resulting in a silky smooth puree.
5. Mortar and Pestle or Molcajete
Famous television Chef Julia Child, who is known for bringing the art of French cooking to Americans in the 1960s is renowned for her love of the mortar and pestle. She is said to have used it for a variety of grinding and mashing tasks. And if you have one on hand, you can, too!
While mortar and pestles, which date back to ancient Egypt, are designed for spice grinding, they can be used to grind just about anything. So too can their spicier Mexican counterparts, molcajetes, be used to grind and puree foods in a similar way to a food mill. For these reasons, both the mortar and pestle and the molcajete make great food mill alternatives.
6. Box Cheese Grater
This substitute for a food mill is something you’re almost certain to have on hand in your kitchen. These are most often used for tasks such as grating potatoes for hash browns, grating carrots for salad, or grating cheese for just about anything!
You can also use the smaller holes on a box grater in lieu of a food mill depending on the application. The softer the item, the greater the possibility of using the larger holes to save time and follow up with a mesh strainer.
Need to puree something in a pinch? Using a hand mixer or stand mixer can be a great way to do so as an alternative to a food mill. If you’ve already tried a blender or food processor with mixed results or poor results, then grinding food with a hand mixer could be your next-best option.
8. Immersion Blender
With the convenience of a hand mixer but the sharper blades of a blender, an immersion blender can be a fantastic alternative to a food mill. After all, immersion blenders are designed to emulsify mixtures in much the same way blenders can, but you have much more control over the mashing process as you can manipulate the blender into the food as needed to hit spots that require a little more working over.
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