Yesterday’s post (The Most Surprising Ingredient in Cooking School) shared my surprise about the amount of times cheesecloth was used in the cooking courses I’ve been taking over the last few years. Ingredients are frequently wrapped in a ‘bag’ made of cheesecloth and used to flavor food while it cooks and then removed later.
Several comments (on the blog and twitter) asked me about what could be used in lieu of cheesecloth – people were looking for something that was resusable/ not disposable. I’ve been asked (in the past) about finding alternatives that are also not bleached. Since people use it for cooking (and preserving), I thought it would be a good idea to share some alternatives to cheesecloth.
I use multiple alternatives to cheesecloth (and, yes, even use it from time-to-time) when cooking. There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution; the right tool for the job is generally determined by a combination of 3 factors:
- Can it be strained? If I’m making stock, jelly or gravy, I know that I can strain the liquid to remove solids. Peppercorns are easy to strain from soup but impossible to strain from a soup that’s filled with solids (such as chunks of vegetables).
- Is it hot? This is really a subset of the straining question but an important one – I occaisionally use plastic (i.e. reusable coffee filters) for straining liquid. I tend to avoid hot liquids (the irony of using a coffee filter for this is duly noted) and tend to avoid pouring scalding liquid through plastic.
- Is speed important? If I’m making jelly I want to remove the solids in a hurry so I tend to use a tea diffuser (it also removes the clean-up step).
By understanding the answers to the question above, I use many different things to replace cheesecloth including:
- A tea towel. IfI’m straining ricotta or yogurt an un-dyed tea towel can easily replace cheesecloth to strain the liquid from the solids.
- Re-use muslin bags. This idea is often better sounding than in practice; many of the cheaper bags are technically reusable but you may find that they fall apart after only a few watches (which is why many are sold in larger quantities).
- A nut bag. Used for making nut milk (like almond milk) these bags are reusable and durable.
- A blender. I know this answer is cheating! Sometimes I simply puree the ingredients to make the solids disappear (of course they are still in the dish but the consistiency is uniform).
- Use a metal strainer. I have 4 in our house; all with different sized holes which makes straining a breeze.
- Use a plastic (but reusable) strainer. A coffee filter or rice sieve are common.
- Use a tea strainer. The metal kind that diffuses flab or into hot water is a great replacement for cheesecloth.
- Use a cloth teabag. Yep, they exist too!
- Make your own reusable tea bags. They’re relatively easy to make!
What are your ideas for replacing cheesecloth?