Quite often, recipes call for cheesecloth, which is uncommon in many pantries. Used as a fine strainer or to keep small herbs or spices apart from other ingredients in a dish, the cloth is quite useful in the kitchen. However, several other alternatives that are more readily available may serve the same purpose.
Kitchen towels often have the same weave as cheesecloth. However, they are made to retain more moisture and so, excess must be squeezed out when they are substituted. Use towels that have no dyes in them or have been washed repeatedly.
Sheets or Pillowcases
A sheet or pillowcase is an oft-used method for straining when cheesecloth cannot be found. When using either, be sure to press out remaining moisture as they have a finer weave than cheesecloth. Well-used linens are often the best substitute, as their weave becomes similar to cheesecloth when threadbare. As with tea towels, use non-dyed linens or those that have been washed repeatedly to ensure no leakage into the food.
Medical gauze has a looser weave than the average cheesecloth so, when it is substituted, several layers must be used to achieve the same effect. Cut two or three lengths of gauze to the size needed for straining and place them on top of each other to use.
Often, cheesecloth is used for a bouquet garni -- a small bundle of herbs. But, twine can also be used to bind the herbs together. If larger leaves are involved, use the string to bind smaller herbs and spices inside the leaves. Always leave one long part of the string draped over the side for easy removal of the bouquet.
Muslin is very similar to cheesecloth, though is often as hard to find. It can be used in the same manner and does not need to be layered. Muslin is generally neutral in colour and less prone to leaking dyes into the foods being sieved.
Coffee filters are the most common substitute for cheesecloth as they are in almost every pantry and have a similar weave. Although coffee filters may be a bit finer than the average cheesecloth, they will strain similarly. One thing to watch out for is that they are made of paper and are more prone to breakage.