Ever taken the time to think about what kitchen tools you'd be lost without? Things like a knife, a wooden spoon, a pot? Sure. But a spider? Not so much.
When we talk to chefs about their essential kitchen tools, though, spiders tend to come up often. A spider is a long-handled spoon with a fine-mesh basket in the shape of a shallow bowl. Traditionally, the mesh is hand-tied with wide lattice-like openings, and the long handle keeps your hands away from pesky things like bubbling hot oil. Its unusual name comes from the spider-web pattern created by the wire.
Our favorites come with a bamboo handle, but they also come in steel. You can find them at dozens of online retailers, but if you live in a big city, you can pick one up in Chinatown for under $10. (And while you're at it, pick up some frozen dumplings to boil and fish out using your new tool.)
Here's how chefs like to put the spider to work.
Frying: "Whether it's chow mein noodles or shredded potatoes, you can pile the ingredients in a spider and use a wok spatula placed on top to make a fried nest that looks like a bowl. Hold them together, forming the shape and then submerge it in oil [for about four minutes] until the cup holds. Then you can let go," Top Chef Boston winner Mei Lin says. Easy for her to say: "I grew up with this tool, and I've used it quite a lot."
Scooping: Despite being an Italian to the core, Antonella Rana of Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina in Manhattan's Chelsea Market, prefers her spider to a colander. "Ravioli, tortellini and cappelletti are not only special because of their filling but also their shape: square, round, knot shaped or a romantic half moon. Protecting their shape is essential, and the spider has the necessary gentle touch. With the ragno ["spider" in Italian], you can scoop the filled pasta from a pot of boiling water without tearing the edges of the dough." Now, who doesn't like a little romance in their pasta?
Scooping, take two: At Tuome in New York's East Village, chef Thomas Chen uses a spider to pull off the final touches on his Beets with Quinoa, Five Spice Yogurt and Pumpkin Seeds dish, which calls for both boiled and fried quinoa. To get the quinoa crispy, Chen cooks, strains and dehydrates the grains, then briefly fries them in hot oil until they puff up. He grabs a spider to do the dirty work of getting all the tiny grains out of the hot oil. Piece of cake, right?
Plating: Spiders aren't just useful for cooking—they can help with presentation, too. Lin likes to spoon a finishing purée onto a serving plate, then gently dip the spider into it, carefully lifting it off to reveal a delicate spider-web pattern on the plate. Place your vegetables in and around the intricate design and prepare for the oohs and ahhs to roll in.