At Plated, we’re all about finding creative new ways to use common pantry staples like honey, coconut milk, and oats. But our creativity doesn’t stop at just the edible ingredients in our kitchen. We love coming up with new uses for every item in a kitchen arsenal, from oven mitts (they protect your hands from heat, but can also give you the extra grip needed to open that sticky jar) to fine mesh sieves (great for straining pasta, but also instrumental in making homemade cold brew and cheese).
Perhaps the most versatile item in any kitchen is the humble roll of aluminum foil. If you’ve only been using your foil to line your roasting pan or wrap and store leftover food, you’re missing out on a whole range of useful ways that aluminum foil can improve your everyday culinary experience.
Let’s dive into our favorite ways to transform aluminum foil into a kitchen miracle worker.
Make a DIY steamer basket
We love roasted broccoli and sautéed Brussels sprouts as much as the next person, but sometimes, we crave a simply steamed vegetable alongside a meal. If you ever have a similar hankering but find yourself without a steamer basket, look no further than your trusty roll of aluminum foil.
Simply ball up at least four sheets of aluminum foil and place them at the bottom of a pot, spaced out in a rough circle. Add water to the pot until the foil balls are just covered. Place the vegetables you’d like to steam on a plate that’s slightly smaller than the pot you’re using, and then place the plate on top of the foil balls within the pot. Place the pot on the stove and turn the heat on medium-high until the water comes to a simmer. Cover the pot and let vegetables cook for 5-10 minutes, depending on what you are steaming—broccoli tends to need less time than Brussels sprouts and potatoes, for example.
Create a homemade funnel
We’ve all been there: you need to transfer spices, oils, or sauces from a large container into a smaller jar or bottle, but your kitchen funnel is nowhere in sight (or maybe you never had one in the first place—we’ve been there, too). You try to wing it and make the transfer without a funnel. Usually, a huge mess ensues. With this handy aluminum foil kitchen hack, you never have to face down a mess like this again!
To start, tear off a large sheet of foil from the box and fold it in half twice, quadrupling the thickness of the sheet. Roll the foil into a funnel shape, so the bottom opening of the funnel fits within the neck of the vessel that is receiving the ingredient being transferred. Use tape to secure the foil to itself, and voila! You have a DIY, single-use funnel.
While we wouldn’t recommend saving this funnel for future use (especially if you’re using it to transfer oils or liquids), you could reuse the foil funnel for another kitchen hack, such as…
Clean roasting pans and grill top
A great way to reuse the foil used to store leftover food, line a roasting pan, or create a DIY funnel is to put it to work on cleaning duty! Crumpled aluminum foil doubles as a great exfoliating agent to tackle the baked-on stains and food residue build-up on roasting pans and baking sheets.
Start by sprinkling baking powder over a pan that needs some TLC. Rub the powder into the pan with a damp paper towel and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Then, take your crumpled ball of aluminum foil and scrub the sheet, paying extra attention to areas with caked-on food and tough stains. Rinse thoroughly with soap and water, and repeat as needed—you may need to go through this process a few times for older, more well-used pans.
Make a foil pack dinner
We love the simplicity of a one pot dinner—the less cookware used, the less time spent cleaning up. Foil pack dinners or en Papillote offer similar benefits—roasting a piece of meat or fish in a foil packet alongside vegetables, herbs and spices ensures not only minimal cleanup, but also a uniformity of seasoning throughout a dish that adds restaurant-quality flavor.
The trick is in the foil packet, which seals in the moisture and intensifies the flavors from all of the ingredients as they roast, rather than releasing them as steam back into the oven. Place a large piece of foil on a clean, dry surface. Fold in half to crease, then reopen. Arrange ingredients (protein, vegetables, etc.) in a single layer on one side of crease. Season and top with desired spices and herbs. Fold foil over the ingredients, bringing edges together. Tuck and crimp edges to create a tight seal, and your foil packet is ready to be roasted or grilled!
Foil packets work great for cooking fish, chicken, and vegetable-centric meals alike, and are an easy way to impress a crowd with minimal cleanup—when you’re done, just ball up the foil packet and discard (or use to scrub your grill).
A key factor in achieving the perfect braise is having a well-fitting lid on your dutch oven or roasting pot, to ensure that your dish is retaining its moisture and cooking at an even temperature. But if the lid to your pan is oven-warped and isn’t fitting quite so tightly anymore (or if you’ve lost the lid in a move or bout of spring cleaning), aluminum foil comes to the rescue yet again with this brilliant hack.
When you reach the point where your braise needs to be covered and simmered, first top your roast with a circle of parchment paper, to act as a neutral buffer between the food and foil. Next, lay a sheet of foil over the braise and tuck it tightly over the food and up the sides of the pan, with a little bit of foil left hanging over the side of the pan. Be careful—the food and pan will be hot!
Finally, top the pan with your ill-fitting lid, and carry on with your braise. The foil works here by creating that crucial seal that your mismatched, warped, or absent lid is unable to achieve on its own.
When you toast nuts on the stovetop, you have to keep attentive watch to make sure they cook evenly and don’t burn on one side. Roasting nuts in the oven in a homemade aluminum foil packet, however, ensures a more even roast, thanks to more uniformly distributed heat.
If you’re thinking—why even spend time roasting your nuts in the first place—trust us, it’s worth it. The heat from roasting nuts draws their natural oils to the surface, enhancing their essential nutty flavor and color and giving them a crunchier texture.
Make custom cookie cutters
Why buy pre-made cookie cutters when you can make your own in any shape or size that your heart desires? Folded aluminum foil makes for a flexible, yet sturdy material for DIY cookie cutters.
Simply tear a sheet of aluminum foil, and fold it in half lengthwise until you have a long, thin rectangle of foil, about ½-inch wide. The foil can then be creased and bent into the shape of your choosing (simple shapes like hearts and stars work best), and secured with a small piece of tape.
P.S. This is a great activity to get kids excited and involved in the kitchen!
Keep bananas from ripening too quickly
Like avocados, bananas are a pesky fruit to keep around—the window between underripe and overripe is often shockingly short. And while overripe bananas make a great base for banana bread or non-dairy ice cream, sometimes you just want to preserve your banana at peak ripeness flavor and texture for a bit longer.
That’s where this great aluminum foil hack comes in. As bananas age, they release ethylene gas through their stems, which thus leads the bananas (and any produce in their vicinity) to brown and ripen. Wrapping the bunch of banana stems with a small piece of foil can slow down the ripening process by trapping the ethylene gas. Bonus tip: separating the bananas (rather than leaving them attached together by their stem) and wrapping each individual stem with its own foil cap can slow the ripening process even further, if you’re really trying to make those bananas last.
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