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Do you have a spider in your utensil crock? For the 42 Burners crew, it’s such an indispensable tool that there are always multiple on hand in the test kitchen. Also called a wok skimmer, wire skimmer, or wire scoop, a spider is a round, long-handled strainer with a wide metal basket that resembles a spider’s web (hence the name!). Food director Sarah Carey has been using one since she worked in restaurants, long before her Martha days. “It's super efficient because you can scoop out a lot of stuff in one motion,” says Sarah. “It holds so much more than a slotted spoon. The holes aren’t as narrow, but in most cases, that doesn’t matter.” She uses a spider most often to blanch vegetables, whether it’s green beans or broccoli.
Deputy editor Greg Lofts also prefers a spider over a slotted spoon for deep-frying everything from calamari and tempura to fritters and chicken wings. The larger surface area and thin mesh allow excess oil to drain more quickly back into the pot, which helps retain crispiness. “With a slotted spoon, you end up with a lot more oil on your paper towels along with your fried food,” explains Greg.
His most surprising ways to put a spider to work? Rinsing small amounts of produce, such as a handful of tomatoes (so much easier than getting out a big colander!), and separating eggs. Crack eggs right into the spider, and the yolks will stay in the basket while the whites end up in the bowl—it's a trick everyone else in the test kitchen has adopted. Assistant editor Lindsay Strand has another egg-cellent use for the spider: hard-boiling. Place eggs in the basket, then carefully lower into hot water.
A spider is also the ideal tool for another job: retrieving pasta. Instead of carrying a heavy pot to the sink, which can be rough on your wrists and thumbs, not to mention dangerous because of the boiling water, Greg removes noodles with a spider, then transfers them directly to the pan sauce. He says, “It’s great because you often want to add some of that starchy pasta water to enhance the flavor and act as a thickener.” Tongs don’t work as well because when you try to grab a longer pasta like spaghetti, half of it tends to slide right out. Another plus: a spider is gentle enough to protect the shape of more delicate pastas, such as gnocchi, ravioli, and tortellini.
There are typically two types of spiders: the traditional design, which teams a bamboo handle with thin wire mesh, and a more modern style, which has a metal handle and a lattice-like basket made of thicker wire. The test kitchen is split on which one reigns supreme: editor at large Shira Bocar favors the grip on the traditional spider, while senior editor Lauryn Tyrell appreciates the stiffness of the modern version and finds it easier to clean. Either way, here’s a pro tip: if you have access to a Chinatown, pick up a spider there—it'll be a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere, and it might just become your new kitchen workhorse.
Watch Martha use a spider to blanch vegetables: