One of the more curious effects of my ongoing health kick has been an unhealthy obsession with salad spinners. Since I have been eating a lot of greens, I wash a lot of greens. Greens that come straight from the farmer, like spinach, tend to come with a lot of dirt on them, and really need to be washed. And those boxed salads from the grocery store have already been washed and dried, but the leaves tend to get too dry. You don’t need to eat them that way. Washing and drying the greens again, which is easiest in a salad spinner, can really liven those boxed salads up.
Now the problem is, salad spinners are generally pretty crappy gadgets. They tend to be made of 100% plastic, which means they tend to build up flavors and stains, and when their spinning mechanism (which is generally in the lid) breaks, it’s basically unfixable, which makes me furious. I’ve had the OXO salad spinner a few times, and broken the mechanism each time.
Ergo I went in search of an all-metal, unbreakable salad spinner, and found nothing. A few extremely expensive spinners had metal bowls, but the mechanisms were still plastic. Along the way I found a discussion on Chowhound about plastic-free salad spinning that suggested to me there really was no good “product” to buy. Thus I had to return to first principles and design my own. And who else to demonstrate first principles better than Julia Child?
(This video should start around the 10:55 mark. If it doesn’t, go there.)
The “French” salad spinner that Julia uses has only two basic elements:
- one, a porous mesh, colander, or filter which holds the greens that have been washed yet allows the water to pass through.
- two, something that uses physical action to encourage the separation of water and salad through centrifugal force.
Every other part is optional. Julia’s “French” salad spinner has no bowl, because the sink catches the thrown-off water. And it has no lid, because, well, I guess she’s not planning on storing anything after the meal. Julia’s salad is going to be so good there won’t be any left. :)
Personally I prefer a spinner to have a bowl and a lid, so that it’s possible to serve and store with the same bowl you used to wash the salad (why waste time washing extra dishes?)
For the record, here is a general diagram of a salad spinner:
Once you understand that this is the design of every salad spinner in existence, you can make a salad spinner out of stuff you have around the house. It can be metal, plastic, fiber, whatever material you want. And since it will not have a complex mechanism, it will be nearly unbreakable. For example:
- you can put your washed salad in a pillowcase or other porous cloth bag and whip it around your head, like this blogger. The salad stays in the bag, the water flies out. The pillowcase is working as both the filtering element and the spinning element. This works surprisingly well — except you will get water all over the walls. (Of course you can go outside to do it, but that’s not my favorite method in the middle of a rainy winter.)
- you can do the same thing with big kitchen towels. I understand this is an old-timey method favored by many good cooks. Same results — nice salad, but splattered walls.
- a more sophisticated variation would be to put the salad-laden pillowcase or kitchen towels into a waterproof bag, then whip that around your head. In this case the towel or pillowcase is still the filtering element, but the waterproof bag acts as the “bowl” or water trap. That way the tossed-off water would won’t go on your walls.
- my preferred method is to put the greens in a stainless steel colander and use that for washing. Then I put salad that colander inside a larger bowl, and then put the whole combination down into a sturdy cloth bag, then whip that around for about 30 seconds. The colander is the filtering element, the bowl is the water trap, and the cloth bag is the thing that allows the bowl and colander to be “spun”.
Won’t the salad fall out without a lid? you say. No, it won’t, the centrifugal force keeps the open “top” of the bowl lined up the right way. After 30 seconds, stop whipping the bowl around, remove the colander, and dump the trapped water out of the bowl. You can then use the bowl for serving. If the bowl has a lid, then you can apply the lid if that suits your needs.
If all that verbiage was too much for you, check out the demonstration on Youtube:
The video shows that I tested two such homemade methods, and found they removed nearly as much water from a washed salad as the famous, and quite breakable Oxo spinner.
So basically, you never need to pay $25-$100 for a clunky and quite breakable salad spinner. There are lots of ways to wash and dry salad that are nearly free and practically unbreakable.
Just remember one thing. Salad spinning should be a vigorous part of the cooking process — not an attack with a medieval flail. So leave plenty of room when you’re swinging that thing around your head. :)
à votre santé !