The Hungry Engineer

Grate Expectations

06 Sep 2008

As promised, I will be writing up a few posts about some of the tools I find particularly useful in the kitchen. For this post, I’d like to talk about the various implements I rely on for grating and shredding. The two main tools I use for such a task are my microplane grater and my large box grater.

The microplane grater has been a fantastic tool. Its biggest strength, in my opinion, is its ability to remove the zest from citrus. The trick to zesting citrus is to get the nice oily skin off the fruit with out removing any of the bitter white pith. Classical methods have you peeling the zest off with a vegetable peeler or very sharp paring knife and then carefully julienning (if necessary) for your intended application. For my part, I’m not nearly so skilled that I’m able to do that consistently, so the microplane grater is perfect for me. It produces zest that is very finely grated, nearly pith-free (if you’re careful), and wonderfully easy to integrate into whatever you’re cooking. One word of caution – those tiny little blades are incredibly sharp and will remove the skin from fingers as easily as they remove skin from citrus.

Another favorite application for the microplane grater is shredding hard cheeses, particularly if I intend to incorporate the cheese into a sauce. The microplane grater produces light, fluffy shreds of cheese that melt almost immediately on contact with a hot sauce. It is wise to use weight instead of volume to determine the amount of cheese you’ll need for a recipe. Here’s an experiment to try. Shred ¼ oz cheese with the microplane grater and shred another ¼ oz with the smaller holes of a box grater. The volume is significantly smaller with the box grater than with the microplane.

The microplane grater is also a wonderful tool for grating fresh ginger. Take your ginger root and peel off the skin with a small paring knife and then just grate it against the microplane. It’s wise to have a small bowl handy to catch the juice. A lot of the extra fibrous material stays stuck up in the grates, so most of what you’re left with in your bowl is very smooth ginger pulp.

One recommendation for taking care of the microplane grater – rinse it off as soon as you are done using it. You don’t have to totally wash it the second you shred something, but I would certainly rinse off any food residue that could dry onto the blades. Scrubbing something that sharp to remove dried, stuck-on food can be a dangerous affair. It’s best to rinse it off ahead of time.

It took me a really long time to buck up and buy a box grater. See, I already had one of those flat graters that have the big holes on one end, the small holes on the other, and a slicer in the middle. But using it was a gigantic pain. It was hard to balance and hold steady over bowls and I often resorted to mashing one end of it against my rib cage, holding the other end firmly with my left hand so I could grate with my right. Plus, its casing was plastic (which I heartily recommend against) and it had started to break. I only had to use the box grater once to realize I had been wasting time with the flat grater. The one I purchased even has a little slide-out tray on the bottom, so as you’re grating, it holds all of whatever you’re grating (well, most of it anyway – grating and shredding are inherently messy) till its time to deposit in a bowl or on a casserole or whatever. I primarily use the box grater for softer cheeses or if I want to grate just a bit of a root vegetable or similar. The box grater is sturdy. I can easily hold it steady with one hand while I grate or shred with the other. And cleaning it is super-easy. I just throw it in the dishwasher.

Now there are other implements I use in the kitchen for this sort of thing as well. When I have to shred a lot of something, I will often use the shredding disc on my food processor (this is especially handy for things like hash browns). But generally speaking, the two implements above are all I need for my various grating and shredding chores.

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