5 Surprising Kitchen Hacks Using Your Colander

5 Surprising Kitchen Hacks Using Your Colander

Think beyond draining pasta with this handy tool

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Article and photos by Ashley Strickland Freeman

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I’ve been spending a lot of time online lately — keeping up with my friends and family on social media, catching up on TV shows I hadn’t had time to watch, and of course researching activities to keep my 4-year-old entertained and up to date with school lessons. While online, I’ve noticed advertisements for a slew of kitchen gadgets promising to save me time and money. Have these ads always been there, or have I just not been paying attention? While I’ll admit I’ve been tempted to add a strawberry stemmer or avocado slicer (I do love an avocado) to my shopping cart, I don’t think my husband would appreciate another gizmo clogging up our utensil drawer.

In the spirit of keeping the clutter down, over the years I’ve learned some time-saving tricks with my favorite kitchen tools — tools that I actually use every week, if not every day. One of these tools is my handy 5-quart yellow enamel metal colander. This kitchen workhorse is not only good for draining pasta and canned beans; it turns out it’s surprisingly helpful for a number of other kitchen tasks.

1. De-stemmer for herbs and greens 

A picture of an overturned colander with some Italian parsley leaves that have had the stems removed

This trick is fairly new to me and one that I had heard of but never tried until I was making a big batch of chimichurri. The recipe I was using called for an entire bunch of fresh cilantro, half a bunch of Italian parsley, and a handful of fresh oregano, all to be de-stemmed before processing in a blender with oil, garlic, and vinegar. As I carefully plucked leaf after leaf from the bunch of cilantro, I thought, “Who has time for this? There’s got to be a better way.” 

That’s when I remembered hearing something on a morning talk show about using a colander to de-stem herbs. So I figured, what the heck, I’ll give it a whirl. Guess what? It really works! All you have to do is turn the colander on its side and insert a stem of parsley through the hole facing upwards in the colander. Place the colander flat on the surface, give the parsley a little tug, and voila, the leaves will fall to the counter top and you’ll have a stripped stem in your hand. 

It turns out this trick also works with greens — although I’ve had the most luck with Lacinato kale or other hearty greens with thinner stems. 

2. Holder for cake pops as they dry

A picture of an overturned colander with cake pops on sticks drying in it

We love cake pops in our house and even though I don’t make them all that often, I do take the time to make them for birthdays or Christmas. They’re always a crowd-pleaser for kids and adults alike, and while they are time consuming, they’re not too hard to make — if you have the proper tools. And that’s when my handy-dandy yellow colander comes into play. 

After I’ve rolled and dipped and sprinkled the cake balls, the last thing I want to do is lay them on their sides to get dented (or stuck to the baking sheet). An upended colander is the perfect solution to use as a holder while the pops dry. 

The holes in my colander are actually a little large for traditional lollipop sticks, so I put a couple of ramekins inside the upside-down colander. The pops then have a little platform to rest on once they’re inserted into the holes. And they’re spread out enough to avoid touching each other. Problem solved!

3. Splatter screen 

A picture of bacon in a cast-iron skillet with a colander going over it

There’s nothing like waking up to the smell of brewing coffee and sizzling bacon on a Saturday morning. We love to have bacon for breakfast on the weekend but it always leaves such a mess to clean up. Pools and drips of grease are dotted all along the countertop and stovetop. 

To combat the mess, I use my colander as a splatter screen as the bacon cooks. This also helps catch any pops of grease that could burn anyone standing near the stove.

4. Steamer basket 

A picture of a colander with broccoli inside a stock pot

Whether for steaming broccoli, carrots, or Asian dumplings, my colander is the perfect tool to use as a steamer basket. I used to have one of those metal collapsible steamer inserts but it never worked the way I wanted it to. The little ring in the center would always seem to slip or collapse at the most inopportune time, and more often than not I’d accidentally dump my cooked peas on the floor when pulling the steamer basket out of the pot. 

A colander has handles so this never happens! And it doesn’t matter that the handles prevent the colander from fitting completely inside my large stockpot — I’m still able to cover it and steam away.

5. Ricer for mashed potatoes 

A picture of a colander with cooked potatoes in it and some riced potatoes next to it on the counter

I’ve never owned a ricer, and to be honest, the only time I used one was in culinary school. Did it make the most glorious, velvety mashed potatoes? Why yes, yes it did. But I never could convince myself to buy one when I could make do with the lumpy mashed potatoes I got with my potato masher. 

Recently I discovered that when I have a craving for fluffy and silky smooth potatoes, I don’t have to look any further than my colander. It serves as the perfect stand-in for that culinary school ricer. 

All you have to do is cook your potatoes and drain them in the colander. Using the back of a wooden spoon or spatula, press the cooked potatoes through the holes in the colander onto a clean surface (or into a bowl) and you’ll have perfectly riced potatoes. No fancy tools required.

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