A food mill is a sieve with muscle. No other tool can mash and strain soft chunks of food more neatly and less strenuously, all at one time. While a 20-year-old hardware-store mill has served me pretty well, some of the bigger, sturdier models I’ve seen made me wonder if it’s time for an upgrade. With this in mind, I put a bunch of food mills through their paces, from a 2-quart plastic model to a professional-size mill three times that size.
Mash and strain in one fell swoop
A food mill purées soft food while it strains fiber, seeds, and skin. It may not be as versatile as a blender or a food processor, but for certain jobs, a food mill works more efficiently than pulsing in a food processor and then forcing through a strainer. Abby Dodge, Fine Cooking’s test kitchen director, loves how a food mill makes quick work of berry purées. “Sometimes a few seeds will sneak through the mill,” she admits, “but for anything more than half a cup, why do it any differently?”
“I wouldn’t be without one,” says Seen Lippert, a chef and restaurant consultant, who uses a food mill for garlic mashed potatoes, vegetable purées, and soups. “A lot of chefs tend to go right to a monster blender,” says Seen, but food mills give an airy texture that a blender or a potato masher just can’t deliver. “Skip the cheap models or that cute vintage one at the flea market,” she advises. “Get a big one.”
Molly Stevens, a contributing editor to Fine Cooking, uses a food mill for home-style dishes She points out, though, that the results from even the finest blade of a food mill will be “a few steps short of the ultra-velvety classic French velouté texture you get with a fine-mesh sieve.”
Here’s what to look for
Most food mills have basically the same features, but there’s some difference in the way they perform.
• A handle and hooks or loops for hooking onto a bowl. These let the mill perch on or hang inside a bowl so milled food falls into the bowl, not onto the counter. Configurations vary. All the models I tried jostled a bit as I cranked; even so, make sure the mill can perch fairly securely on a stockpot or bowl.
• Interchangeable disks. From the $15 Mouli to the $160 Rösle, most come with these. If you plan to use a mill for more than just mashed potatoes, you’ll want a choice of gauges for varying degrees of fineness.
• Capacity. A deep, generously sized food mill is helpful in a couple of ways. It lets you finish the job in one or two passes instead of in small batches, and food is less likely to fall out of the mill. Plus, bigger food mills save you dishwashing: drain a whole pot of boiled potatoes right into a big-capacity mill, purée the potatoes back into the boiling pot, and you’ve saved washing a colander and a holding bowl. Go for at least 2 quarts; 3 is even better.
• A blade that rides close to the disk. The least effective models I tried swirled the food around the mill rather than grabbing it and forcing it through. This was due to a sharply sloped blade, whose high angle allowed for more space between the blade and the disk. The extra clearance causes food to be swept around the mill rather than pushed through the disk. Look for a gently sloped blade that rides close to the sieve disk.
• “Grab.” On some models, the disk perforations are stamped from the outside so the resulting protruding edges are on the inside of the mill. These edges grab the food so the blade can push it through the sieve, rather than sweeping it around the bowl. On more expensive home versions, the disk perforations’ edges are polished, but the edge of the blade is angled down about 1/4-inch, which helps grab the food chunks and push them through more easily.
• Easy assembly. The mill should be easy to take apart for cleaning and easy to reassemble.
There’s good value in all price ranges
Food mills vary in price from $15 to $200.
Low-priced models cost from $15 to $35, and many work quite well; they’re made of aluminum, tinned steel, or plastic, instead of top-quality stainless steel. Of those I tested, the only disappointment was a $30 2-quart steel mill by Foley that’s a flimsy update of my sturdier old tinned model; it chased strawberries round and round until I had to press with my fingers to get the milling started. Instead, plunk down $5 more on the similarly sized European Vigano. Here’s the surprise: Moulinex’s $15 and $25 1- and 2-quart plastic versions did just as good a job on mashed potatoes and blackberry purée as did their pricier metal siblings. If you want a food mill but think you’d use it only occasionally, the 2-quart plastic Moulinex would be money well spent.
High-priced mills ring in at about $160 to $200. What the extra money buys you is sleek design and heavy, stainless-steel construction. Rösle makes a sturdy, great-looking food mill. The 3-1/2-quart workbowl is deep and spacious, the blade cranks smoothly and efficiently, and the mill is easy to take apart. It comes with one disk; additional disks cost $40 each.
For high-volume or professional cooking (canning your own applesauce or tomato sauce, filling large orders of sweet potato pie at holiday time, turning out dinner for 100 with celery root purée as a side dish), there’s a hefty, professional French mill that’s three times the capacity of the others (and costs about $200). I couldn’t resist calling it Big Bertha: the thing milled five very large whole roasted sweet potatoes in six seconds flat. It’s a bit ungainly and wouldn’t perch on a big stainless-steel mixing bowl (whose rim was too wide for the mill’s hooks), but it did hook nicely onto my 8-quart stockpot.
So what about that upgrade? The mill I’d choose is priced smack in the middle. Made by Cuispro, it costs about $85 and performs just as well as Rösle’s roomy, sleek, similarly sized mill—for about half the price. The Cuispro cranks smoothly, its sturdy blade rides close to the disk, and the mill’s capacious, rounded workbowl holds several pounds of potatoes, which it milled quite easily.