Sunday, August 12, 2007

On Jamie Oliver's Flavour Shaker

My normal policy is to steer clear of so-called "celebrity cookware" -- you know, the name-endorsed line of stuff like Emerilware(TM) pots and Rachael Ray pans and Alton Brown knives. Yes, they're expensive and some of the pieces even look pretty good, but deep down you have to ask yourself: does the name in question make any difference in the functioning of the piece in question? Most of the time the answer is no.

With one exception.

I wouldn't go anywhere near Jamie Oliver's T-Fal endorsed line of pots. Or his pasta-machine, or his ceramicware. But I do like his Flavour Shaker. (The product also has a Canadian site, but I've yet to locate the U.S. one.)

First off, it's a very unique piece of design that, if you believe Jamie's story, he came up with himself; no cookware company approached him to lend his name to something they just developed. That's fairly unique among celebrity chefs, claiming to have invented something.

Second, it's simple and functional. It's just a two-piece super-high-impact plastic bottle that holds a heavy ceramic ball. When you shake the thing, the ball spins and tumbles inside, crushing hard spices like peppercorns and cloves, pulverizing garlic and shredding leaves of basil.

The hard spice part -- yes, it does a pretty good job on that. Garlic -- well, that will depend on the size of the clove you load into it; smaller gloves can pulverize, larger ones not so much. (What does help is putting in a little olive oil prior to the vertical shake.)

As for the leaves: not really by themselves, it won't work. You need to add something like large crystal salt or peppercorns before larger leaves actually start to shred.

It's meant to replace the mortar and pestle that's traditionally used to grind spices, but because it's a bottle you can also emulsify liquids with it. So it's a little easier to make salad dressing: pop in your herbs and spices, shake, then add your oil and vinegar and shake again, open it up and take out the ball and pour over your prepared salad.

There are really only two major drawbacks to this. First, if you're working with liquids it can be a little messy fishing the ball out once you're done. Second, you're limited by volume so you won't be able to crush a huge amount. But these are really minor quibbles.

The major quibble is product quality. There've been reports round the Net that the plastic 'round the joining edges isn't as durable as it should be. Also the sealing ring can be prone to major deformation if you use the dishwasher to wash it.

The price? Around $35 CDN including taxes. Which is pretty heavy considering its low-tech mode, but if you think of it as a spice mill then the price becomes competitive with electric-powered mills. (Me, I'd like to see if I can grind coffee beans with this thing.)