Who knew these fabric rectangles could be so phenomenally versatile?
Every now and then I stumble across a headline that kickstarts my brainstorming. Today, it was Food52's article on "8 Ways to Use a Kitchen Towel Besides Drying Dishes." Immediately I started wondering what my own list would look like, before sneaking a peek at theirs. In a matter of minutes, I had a surprising long list, helped by some Internet wisdom. I guess I use my tea towels in more ways than I realize!
These little rectangles of fabric are impressively versatile, so do not underestimate their ability to make your kitchen tasks easier. Keep them clean (I change mine every 2-3 days) and stock a few varieties for different purposes. I like super-absorbent cotton terry ones for drying wet dishes and cleaning up messes, and the stiffer flour sack/linen types for covering dough and creating a stable base for mixing bowls – but more on that below!1. Cover rising bread dough. When I gave up plastic wrap, tea towels became my go-to for covering bowls of dough while rising. Some people moisten the towels beforehand, but I don't and haven't noticed any problems with dryness.
2. Spin salad greens and herbs dry. When my salad spinner broke, I spent several months drying greens in clean towels. You can literally spin and twirl the towel around to get the moisture out, or gently wrap and press the water out.
3. Potholder and trivet. Fold a tea towel over several times to create a insulated grip for hot pots and baking pans. Set one on the table to hold hot dishes.
4. Make the fluffiest rice. Wrapping a pot lid in a tea towel and securing it around the handle with an elastic makes a tight seal. This is also good if you have browned meat in with the rice. According to chef Samin Nosrat's recipe for Chicken with Lentil Rice, "This will absorb steam and prevent it from condensing and dripping back onto the chicken, which would make the skin soggy."
5. Keep quick breads warm from the oven. Line a bowl or basket with a clean tea towel and put freshly baked tea biscuits, scones, or muffins inside to keep them warm until ready to serve.
6. Stabilize mixing bowls and cutting boards. Fold up a towel to create a base beneath a mixing bowl, if you find it's skittering across the counter. Spread one out and place a cutting board on top if it's moving around, or if you want to catch drips.
7. Drain fried foods. Giving up paper towels has forced me to use fabric alternatives to absorb grease. Please note: This does tend to make cloths unattractive over the long term, so I have a few designated towels that I use any time I need to drain something greasy.
8. Wrap gifts. Use a tea towel to make furoshiki-style wrapping for a gift, like a bottle of wine or olive oil or a pile of handmade soaps.
9. An improvised tea cozy. My mother would be horrified to find out that I don't own a single tea cozy (she has many), but when my guests are late showing up for tea, I wrap it in a towel.
10. Line a shelf or cabinet. I put a thin linen towel on the bottom of the cabinet where I keep olive oil and vinegar. It absorbs the greasiness that inevitably appears over time. I've also heard of tea towels being used to line fruit bowls and crisper drawers in the fridge.
11. Spread over phyllo pastry to prevent drying out. Phyllo is notorious for drying out quickly, so I always have a tea towel handy to place over top of the pile as I'm brushing olive oil between layers of spanakopita or melted butter for strudel.
12. Make a lunchbox. This awesome idea comes via The Kitchn. Wrap your food containers in a tea towel, furoshiki-style, and you get a tablecloth in the deal, too.
13. A work surface when preserving food. When canning tomatoes, I like to spread a tea towel on the counter to prevent hot jars from slipping and to absorb the many drips. It makes for easy cleanup.
14. Improvised curtains. Hang pretty tea towels off curtain rods to give privacy and color to a kitchen window.
15. Make homemade produce bags. I just wrote an article on this last week, but it never occurred to me that tea towels would be a great shortcut. They're pre-cut and pre-hemmed. Just stitch on three sides, add a drawstring, and you're set.
16. Baby bib. I've done this more times than I can count – showed up for dinner at someone's house without a bib for one of my kids. A tea towel always does the trick, secured at the back with a clothespin.
17. Store breakable dishes. Stack fragile china and glassware between tea towels to prevent chips and cracks.
18. Make baked eggs. This curious recipe places eggs on a moist tea towel directly in the oven to bake. (I haven't actually tried this myself yet.)
19. Store greens in the refrigerator. In the post-plastic era, we'll be doing a lot more of this – turning to cloths to serve purposes that formerly relied on plastic bags. Tea towels are great for storing herbs, lettuce, kale, and more.
20. Replace paper towels. You don't need paper towels if you have a stack of clean tea towels on hand. Use them for wiping dry, cleaning, polishing, etc. More: How to avoid using paper towels
Oh, and did I mention they're pretty good for drying dishes, too?