Photo: Alison Miksch; Food Styling: Cat Steele; Prop Styling: Lindsey Lower

Chefs prize this versatile kitchen tool, so why shouldn’t you? 

Elizabeth Laseter
January 02, 2019
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I used to work as a line cook in a fine dining restaurant. On my first day, Chef handed me a wobbly, old-fashioned-looking tool. “Here,” he said. “You’ll need this for making the mashed potatoes.”

That archaic contraction was a food mill. But what exactly is it? A food mill looks like a cross between a colander and a small saucepan, but that’s about as far it goes. There are three main parts: the bowl, interchangeable perforated discs (coarse, medium, or fine), and a hand crank with a stainless steel blade attached to it.

As you turn the crank, the blade crushes the food and separates out any seeds, skin, or pulp. The end result is a smooth puree with a creamy texture and even consistency. Chefs prize food mills for their ability to make perfect sauces, soups, jams, and purees. They’re a mainstay in professional kitchens, but you rarely see them in home kitchens.

In culinary school, I’d used a food mill to make fresh tomato sauce, but never for mashed potatoes. Luckily, Chef’s personality was about as far away from Gordon Ramsey’s as you could get, so he was more than happy to demonstrate the process.

First, Chef secured the food mill above a large bowl, then placed a handful of cooked and peeled Yukon Gold potatoes into the bowl. (Mashed potato tip #1: Use Yukon Golds for a super buttery and rich mash.) As he turned the crank clockwise, the blade forced the potatoes through the holes in the disc. After several turns, small potato “pellets” began to fall from the food mill into the pot.

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After passing the potatoes through the food mill, Chef folded in a generous amount of heavy cream. (Mashed potato tip #2: Make sure you’re using HOT cream or milk. It easily mixes into the potatoes while also keeping them nice and warm.) Like magic, the potatoes became smooth and velvety. In fact, they were less of a mash—and more of a puree. “Try them,” said Chef. I scooped up a small amount with a spoon. Oh my God.

These were, hands down, the best mashed potatoes I’d ever tasted. The flavor was buttery and delicious, but it was the texture that captivated me. They were creamy and luxurious, yet their consistency was light and airy. I felt the magnetic pull of these ultra-sexy spuds. I had to restrain myself. They had to last through dinner service, after all.

Growing up, my mom made mashed potatoes with a hand mixer. (Mashed potato tip #3: PLEASE DON’T DO THAT.) They were gluey and overworked, but being eight years old and not knowing any better, I ate them anyway. (Thankfully, she invested in a hand masher when I was in high school.) So, as you might imagine, Chef's food mill mashed potatoes blew my mind.

How to Use a Food Mill

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Let’s revisit this: Food mills are a rare sight in home kitchens. I get it. If you’ve never used one, a food mill looks pretty intimidating. But trust me on this: using a food mill is much easier than you think. In fact, the toughest part is fitting all of the pieces together. Once you’ve mastered that, the rest is simple.

Here’s how to use a food mill, whether you’re making mashed potatoes or tomato sauce.

Choose the right disc.

In order to get the proper consistency, you’ll want to place the proper size disc (coarse, medium, or fine) into your food mill.

  • Coarse: Mashed potatoes or chunkier tomato sauce
  • Medium: Homemade applesauce
  • Fine: Jams or jellies

Secure the food mill.

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You’ll need a landing spot for your food after it passes through the food mill. Most models have “legs” on the bottom that can easily be attached to the top of a prep bowl, stock pot, or saucepan.

Add cooked or soft food.

Place the food in the bowl of the food mill. Don’t overfill. You can work in batches if needed.

Turn the crank clockwise.

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As you do this, you should start to see food falling out from the bottom of the food mill. Keep turning the crank until all the food has passed through the disc. Use a spatula to scrape any remaining food off the bottom.

Clean the food mill.

I know, this isn't the fun part. But to prevent food from caking and drying on your food mill, you'll want to clean it right away. The easiest way to do this is to take it apart and clean each piece separately. Most food mills are also dishwasher safe.

Where can you buy a food mill? Your local restaurant supply store should sell them, but you can also order them on Amazon. We like the OXO Good Grips Food Mill (available on Amazon for $47) for its sturdy build and easy-to-grip handles.

Now that you know how to use a food mill—step up your mashed potato game with these easy recipes. (If you don’t own a food mill, a potato ricer is a suitable substitute.)

What Else Can You Make in a Food Mill?

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Jessie Baude

If perfect mashed potatoes isn’t reason enough to buy a food mill, then you’ll be thrilled to know that there are plenty of other exciting uses for it. Try making Pear Applesauce, Slow-Roasted Tomato Marinara, or even homemade spaetzle.

A food mill may look old-fashioned, but take a hint from the professional chefs. They don’t care about having the newest, shiniest kitchen tool on the market. Chefs want tools that work, and a food mill more than delivers in that category. Plus, you won’t waste an ounce of electricity in the process.

Who cares if it isn’t trendy? But for purees, sauces, soups, and more with impeccable texture, a food mill simply can’t be beat. Alright, I'll get off my soap box now.

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