They are not essential or valuable utensils in the kitchen. Neither will they set an antique kitchen collector's heart beating. First of all, they are big and bulky. Another thing is that these gadget types are inevitably often made of plastic.
But the beauty of salad spinners, washers, driers and shakers is that once you get to know them, they become a form of security blanket. It's nice to know you're getting dirt, grit or sand out from those leaves (particularly spinach), as well as washing away any polluted water from wild or field lettuce. But the ultimate satisfaction comes from the unit's function of getting those greens thoroughly dry so they won't repel the oil when the salad is dressed down.
When the inner-slotted bowl of a salad spinner spins, the centrifugal force that's created propels water out from the greens--much faster than you can from pat-drying each leaf with a paper or bath towel.
Two Basic Types
There are two basic types of salad spinners. A joy to use, the first "toy" consists of a pull cord on the lid that's attached to a flywheel. When pulled, the cord sets the strainer basket spinning at high speed. Water drains out into a larger bowl and can be easily drained out. A wonderful example is the Zyliss Salad Drier ($22.95). Manufactured in Switzerland, this efficient rotary tool consists of a white, perforated inside basket that can be used as a colander and a clear outside bowl that doubles as a salad server. The unit can also be used to store leftover greens in the refrigerator; that is, if you have room in yours. All equipped with clear or smoked outer bowl, Zyliss is available with white, brown, or red strainer and lid.
The other kind of salad spinner is designed with a rotating handle on the lid that moves the gear to turn the basket. Triumph from France makes a 10-inch ($16) as well as a 6-inch ($10) salad spinner in blue and white colors. The latter is particularly useful for drying herbs, watercress, cilantro and parsley and a perfect size for making salad for one or two. Other entries in the rotary handle type come from Copco ($10.95) in Illinois, featuring a colorful array of biscuit, dark blue, slate blue, white, dusty rose and red baskets with white covers.
Another version modified with a hole on top for adding water comes from Progressive International Corp. in Seattle ($9.95). Called Salad Washer/Spinners, they come in slate blue, red, deep blue with white trim and an all-white unit accented with green or blue.
When using either of the salad spinners described above, make sure not to overfill to allow ample space for the greens to move about, otherwise they will not dry well. Iceberg or other crisp lettuce can be sliced or shredded while softer types can be torn. Cut greens as close to serving time as possible, otherwise store them one to two days after spinning (they will keep longer in tightly sealed plastic bags or container). The spinner may also be used for drying shredded or julienned potatoes (they fry better dry), edible flowers, hardy fruits and vegetables.
The older design of a lettuce drier is the shaker. You've seen them in both metal and plastic baskets with one handle. The idea is to fill the basket with the greens, wash them and whirl the unit into the air like a lasso. Designed with two white plastic baskets with sides that snap together is the new Salad Shaker ($8.95) from Decor America in Compton. When filled with lettuce, fruits or other vegetables, the Salad Shaker baskets can be snapped tight together and rotated under the faucet to rinse the contents thoroughly. To dry, simply shake off the liquid. Each basket nests inside one another for easy storage.
Another salad help product recently introduced by Decor from an old design is the Lettuce Crisper ($8.95). The futuristic-looking globe holds a cone in the bottom on which to place an entire head of lettuce. After coring and rinsing. the lettuce head can be stored in the covered globe. Any moisture remaining on the vegetable will drain into a well; a grid keeps the water from touching the lettuce leaves. Aside from keeping it crisp, the container prevents lettuce from being bruised.
The Zyliss Salad Drier is available at Ports of Call (Pasadena), Esprit de Cuisine (Pasadena) and Kitchen Corner (La Canada).
The Triumph Salad Spinner is available at Williams Sonoma store; for mail orders, call (415) 421-4242.
The Progressive Salad Washer/Spinner is available at Stor (City of Industry).
The Decor Lettuce Crisper and Salad Shaker will soon be available at Bullock's. The Copco Salad Spinner is available at Buffum's and Kitchen World (Santa Monica).