Two things you’ll find in every serious cook’s kitchen: cheesecloth and kitchen twine (a.k.a. butcher’s twine). Chef Johnny Gnall shows you how they make things easier. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.
While cheesecloth and twine may sound like an ordinary and unremarkable pair of items, they are more versatile then one might think. As with many kitchen tools, it’s all about how you use them.
Here are my favorite ways to use this indispensable pair. Neither is expensive, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t keep them on hand.
You can even package a twine dispenser and some cheesecloth as a gift for a budding cook.
We store our kitchen twine neatly in this dispenser. Photo courtesy RSVP.
WAYS TO USE BOTH CHEESECLOTH & TWINE TOGETHER
You can use cheesecloth and butcher’s twine to wrap and secure meat or produce that will benefit from air circulation in the fridge. The cheesecloth keeps the food protected but allows it to breathe, even if wrapped tightly. The food may still susceptible to bacteria, so take care to store it properly and cook it to the proper temperature.
You can steam vegetables in any large stockpot, without a steamer insert. Bundle the veggies in a thin layer of cheesecloth and tie with twine to secure; then fill the stockpot a third of the way with water and set it to boil. Hang the bundle of veggies over the boiling water using a long skewer or slotted spoon laid across the top of the pot. Cover (it’s okay if you don’t create a perfect seal) and steam to desired tenderness.
If you’re trying to drain something for a number of hours (e.g. overnight, like yogurt), leaving it in the sink isn’t always convenient. Instead, place the item in a bundle of cheesecloth, tie it securely with kitchen twine, and hang it over a bowl somewhere out of the way. Just make sure to use a bowl big enough that the drainage won’t spill over.
Cheesecloth, a very fine weave originally developed to drain the water in cheese making. Photo courtesy Norpro.
Scooping the stuffing from a roast bird is no the neatest task. You can fix that by bundling the stuffing in cheesecloth. Once it’s tied up and secure, push the cheesecloth pouch into the bird and cook as normal. Removing the stuffing takes mere seconds. You can also us this trick if you’re simply stuffing the bird with aromatics.
It’s easy to infuse flavor into whatever you’re cooking: A sachet is one of my favorite things to make when poaching or braising. Simply pile your favorite aromatics (herbs, garlic, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, whatever) in the middle of a small piece of cheesecloth, gather the cloth together like a hobo stick, and tie with a piece of kitchen twine. Remove and toss when the cooking is finished.
Sugar Dusting Pouch
Bundle up a half cup or so of confectioners’ sugar in a small amount of cheesecloth, tie with butcher’s twine, and drop into a glass or mug. Then, when you want a nice, even dusting of powdered sugar, just shake the pouch lightly over your pastry or dessert.
WAYS TO USE CHEESECLOTH
You can soak several layers of cheesecloth in wine, broth or any other flavorful liquid (even butter if you’re feeling naughty); then lay them over any bird or beast you plan to roast. The cheesecloth will help the roast to self-baste and stay moist. Keep an eye on it though, as you may want to rehydrate it depending on how long things are in the oven.
Making Greek Yogurt
Simply spread a cheesecloth over a colander and fill with plain yogurt. Refrigerate overnight, then press. It’s that easy to make Greek-style yogurt.
You can use one or more layers of cheesecloth to strain stocks and broths, keeping unwanted debris out. Using several layers will allow you to catch even the tiniest bits, and sometimes a cheesecloth can fit more comfortably over a receptacle than your own metal strainer.
WAYS TO USE KITCHEN TWINE
This one is the obvious no-brainer, and the first reason to buy kitchen twine. Remember when trussing, that form is far more important than function. It doesn’t how matter how pretty your trussing is; the objective is to hold your roast together so the meat cooks evenly.