A jelly strainer is a kitchen tool which is designed to filter ingredients for jams, jellies, and sauces. It consists of a fine mesh bag which traps chunks of detritus, allowing clear fluid and small pieces of material to flow through. The strained material is used to create clear, uniformly textured jellies, while the chunks of material can be discarded or used in other recipes. Some canning recipes call for the use of a jelly strainer.
A jelly is a clear spread made from from cooked fruit juice with sweeteners and spices, firmed with pectin. Unlike jam, which often contains chunks of material, jelly is supposed to be evenly textured and clear. The best way to get the fruit juice is to use a jelly strainer, since the chef may cook and season the fruit, place it in a jelly strainer, and then work on other projects while the clean juice drips out into a pan underneath the jelly strainer.
A basic jelly strainer has two parts. One part is a stand which is designed to clip onto bowls or pots, or to be positioned over a container to catch the drippings. The other is a mesh bag, commonly made from nylon. The fruit which needs to be strained is poured into this mesh bag, which often clips onto the stand so that it will not slip. In most cases, the filter bag is designed to be reusable, if it is well cared for. Some jelly strainers are made from metal, and are designed like colanders with a very fine sieve.
Once the juice has been strained, there are some uses for the remaining fruit. Some cooks like to add a small amount back into the jelly for texture, for example. The fruit can also be mixed into baked goods for more flavor and texture, or it can be forced through the jelly strainer to pulp it, making the jelly more rich and dense. The jelly mixture also needs to go through a cooking stage, during which pectin and sugar are added before it is decanted into jars which are sealed with canning rings.
A good jelly strainer is not a very expensive item. Look for a sturdy jelly strainer with a stout base; three legs are ideal because a three legged base can level itself out on almost any surface. Make sure that the jelly strainer can be easily washed, as it will be coated in sticky, sugary fruit material every time you use it. Read care directions for the filter bag carefully so that you can extend its lifetime, and pick up a spare filter bag for emergencies.