From making homemade pasta and bread crumbs to cauliflower rice and so much more, the humble box grater is a genius, multi-talented workhorse.
Behold the glorious box grater. As the countertop and drawers suffer an encroaching invasion of unitasking wastes of plastic – Corn kernel remover! Banana slicer! Mango peeler! Bell pepper corer! – the simple box grater waits patiently in the dark corner of the cupboard waiting for its moment to shine. Which, as it turns out, is likely more often than many people may realize.
The cheese grater was invented in 16th century France as a way to use cheese that had become hard. Five hundred years later and we’re still using it to grate cheese – and so much more. With the advent of the food processor many a box grater was shown the door, which is a shame. Aside from its many functions, a box grater takes up much less room, uses no electricity, doesn’t include a bunch of plastic, is easier to clean, and results in a nicer shred than does a food processor. (A food processor gives a blunt edge to the shredded bits, a grater gives a taper, which makes for a better texture.)
It's simple, it's low-tech, it lasts forever, and it's brilliant. So without further a do, the greatness of the box grater revealed.
1. Bread crumbs
Toast bread, grate, voila. Also a good way to use up stale bread – if it needs extra help, grate it then toss with a little olive oil, sea salt and a clove of smashed garlic before tossing in a pan over low heat until golden.
2. Brown sugar
Even though I know that putting a citrus peel in the brown sugar keeps it soft, I inevitably end up with brown-sugar boulders that I attack with a knife, a scenario sure to one day end in heartbreak. And then I thought: box grater. It works.
3. Cauliflower rice
It may be the trendy Paleo-inspired stand-in for grains and couscous, but I find cauliflower rice a wonderfully subtle addition to everything from risotto to mashed potatoes to just about any kind of soup. It is the ultimate sneaky vegetable. And you can make it with your box grater using the medium size holes; no secrets, just grate it.
4. Charcoal salt
I’m not so sure how I feel about eating charcoal. But grilling god-man Adam Perry Lang recommends making a charcoal salt to add a smoky pizzaz when desired. "Grating a tiny amount of charcoal into your finishing salt gives you that extra smoky burnt-wood accent," says he. Grate about a tablespoon of hardwood charcoal that's not chemically treated and grind together with a cup of kosher salt.
5. Chocolate for garnish
Grate chocolate using medium holes for ersatz sprinkles; use the slicing side for curls.
6. Chocolate for melting
When melting large chunks of chocolate in a double boiler one runs the risk of overheating the already-melted chocolate while the hunk is still melting. Using grated chocolate allows it all to melt at the same rate.
7. Butter, cold for pastry
Pastry making likes cold butter – by grating frozen butter it is super cold and incorporates quickly to ensure that its chilly temperature endures.
8. Butter, room temperature
Likewise, many recipes call for room-temperature butter. If you have planned ahead and taken it out of the fridge, you get a gold star. If not, grate it cold and use as is or wait a few minutes and it will warm up much more quickly than in stick form.
Garlic press? Hard to clean. Mincing garlic with a knife? Time consuming and potentially tedious. Grating it with a grater? Easy to clean, quick, and perfect texture to boot. Bonus: You can grate onions, too; works great with shallots.
I actually have a small ceramic ginger grater that I adore, but a box grater works just as well. And bonus tip: Keep your ginger in the freezer and it will last waaaay longer; grate the frozen root with your box grater and return it to the freezer.
11. Hard-boiled eggs
No need to chop or dice, just grate them directly onto a salad or sandwich, or into a bowl to make into egg salad.
12. Homemade pasta
This is brilliant. When well-practiced, making pasta from scratch can take as little as 30 minutes from start to ready-to-cook – but this method for using a box grater instead of rolling it out would cut down that time by a lot. I love my Atlas and love hand-cranking long sheets and strands of noodles, but in a pinch, this method is awesome.
13. Lemon zest
You don’t need a fancy microplane to make lemon (or orange or lime or grapefruit) zest; box grater, small holes.
14. Mashed potatoes
Mashed potato masters recommend using a potato ricer for perfectly fluffy potatoes; for those of us who don’t have a dedicated potato ricer, a box grater can do the trick. I also use the box grater for the potato puree when making homemade gnocchi.
There is nothing like freshly grated nutmeg; it puts all the other warming spices to shame. (Says the avowed nutmeg freak.) I love having a whole nutmeg on hand and freshly grating it, with the box grater, on top of everything where most people put vanilla or cinnamon.
For anyone wanting the nut taste but not the nut texture in baked good, using the large hole on a grater is the way to go.
17. Root vegetables
Carrots may be box grater use #2 after cheese, but don’t stop there. You can grate roots to thicken up soups and sauces or to sneakily hide them in dishes being fed to vegetable-averse eaters. As far as raw vegetables go, grating them enhances uncooked textures; for example, I love grating raw beets directly into salad.
Almost instant fresh tomato pulp, thank goodness. I can’t believe all the time I spent peeling and seeding tomatoes before I found out one can just grate them raw. Cut the tomato in half, carefully rub the cut side against the large holes until you get to the skin, watch as the bowl beneath is filled with beautiful raw tomato pulp. Add garlic, basil, salt, pepper and olive oil for a quick summer sauce; use it on bruschetta; toss it in a pan and for your favorite cooked tomato sauce recipe. (And don’t let the skins go to waste. Freeze them for later use in stock or soup, or dry them to turn them into beautiful pink tomato salt.)