A chinois is a conical sieve with an extremely fine mesh. It is used to strain custards, purees, soups, and sauces, producing a very smooth texture. It can also be used to dust pastry with a fine layer of powdered sugar.
Chinois is pronounced shin'-wah.
The name is a loanword from French. The name chinois comes from the form of the French adjective meaning Chinese it is the name of this utensil in French.
A related but far less expensive utensil, with a related name, is the China cap, a reference to the conical Asian hats common in China. It is a conical strainer of perforated metal with much larger holes than a chinois. A China cap is used to remove seeds and other coarse matter from liquids and soft foods, but does not produce a very smooth texture.
Both the chinois and the China cap often are used with a matching wooden cone with a handle. With its tip placed in the bottom of the strainer, the cone is moved against the sides of the strainer to work soft food through it. A China cap, used with this dowel, functions similar to a food mill, tamis, or colander used with a muddler. A chinois generally is too fine for this purpose.