Talking Shop: Parchment Paper
Question: “What is parchment paper and why do I need to use it?” -John S., Houston, TX
Answer: Parchment paper is genius, that’s why you need to use it.
No really, parchment is the answer to a host of your cooking problems. Parchment keeps foods from sticking to pans without added oil, works as a heat buffer and even as a cooking vessel. It also is NOT waxed paper and the two cannot be used interchangeably when cooking.
Parchment paper is simply a paper that has been impregnated with a nonstick compound and then dried. Depending on which source you ask, the paper may be impregnated with sulfuric acid, zinc chloride or silicone. Parchment paper is heat stable up to 420 degrees as well.
Waxed paper, on the other hand, is simply paper coated with wax. It’s not heat stable and will smoke if you try to use it when baking. Wax paper should be used for cold storage and transportation of foods only.
What makes parchment paper so great to use when cooking is that it will provide superior results to your cooking easily. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say that you want to roast some hearty root vegetables for a dish. So you heat up your oven and pan, coat all your vegetables in oil and seasoning then throw them in. When you take them out to check the vegetables for doneness, one side is a caramelized brown but the top is kind of soft and mushy. Maybe you’ve also encountered this situation with cookies, pastries or quick breads where the bottoms are an unintentional chocolate brown but the centers are still raw. In my experience, I can’t say that using parchment paper is a foolproof method for preventing excessive browning on the bottoms of your foods, but it definitely helps prevent that from happening in a lot of cases and needs no extra oil to coat the pan.
Another added benefit to using parchment paper is that you can use it as a cooking vessel. The most popular parchment paper cooking method is known as “en papilotte”, which literally means in parcel. To do this, the ingredients are folded into a packet of parchment paper and then baked. As the ingredients cook, they release steam as well, making for a tender, moist meal. Kind of like a slow food French MRE. The fun, however, doesn’t stop there. I’ve also read articles that some cooks like to use parchment when cooking things like pizza (I’m assuming frozen pizza) as a liner between the pie and the rack. Although I wouldn’t recommend this method as the paper may scorch under high heat, it does show that with a little creativity, parchment is a pretty versatile cooking vehicle.
In my opinion, parchment paper is worth the slight additional cost to your grocery bill and is completely recyclable and biodegradable. However, if you want an easy solution that you only have to buy once (as well as having very little environmental impact), you may also want to consider a Silpat mat for a baking pan liner. Silpats, which are a fiberglass mesh with a silicone binder, serve the same purpose as parchment except that you obviously can’t use them for parcel baking or baking a frozen pizza on a rack with. Silpat mats also cannot be cut on or folded for storage. A handy device to have, but not entirely as versatile as the old fashioned parchment paper.