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A&E >  Food

Many types of wraps available for variety of tasks

Robert L. Wolke Special to The Washington Post

No doubt your kitchen, like mine, has a shallow drawer just deep enough to hold those long boxes of wrap for the kitchen.

These rolled-sheet, pull-and-tear materials have their individual strengths and weaknesses, literally, that make them most suitable for specific tasks beyond serving as a temporary, disposable work surface.

You can line a cake pan with waxed paper, catch oven drips on aluminum foil, wrap leftovers in plastic film and bake fish in an envelope of parchment.

Waxed paper is a thin tissue paper infused with paraffin, a petroleum-derived product much like that in a (nonbees) wax candle, but more highly refined for Food and Drug Administration-approved food use. Chemically, it is a mixture of nontoxic saturated hydrocarbons (alkanes). If consumed, they would pass through the digestive tract undigested. As a matter of fact, a coating of food-grade paraffin is often used to increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables and may even be added to melted chocolate to give the solidified product a glossy finish.

Thomas Edison is credited with first waxing paper to make it waterproof – no doubt one of his more modest accomplishments. Today’s leading brand, Reynolds Cut-Rite Wax Paper (manufactured, oddly enough, by a metals company), was so named in 1927 when Nicholas Marcalus invented the serrated-edge cutter now used on boxes of virtually all kitchen-roll products.

But there is a much better alternative for oven use. …

Parchment: Originally, parchment was the smoothed and dried skin of a sheep or goat, used for writing or painting. In modern times, the term has been used for a paper that is hardened, strengthened and grease-proofed by being run quickly through a bath of concentrated sulfuric acid. The acid hydrolyzes the paper’s cellulose and gels the surface fibers, which then mesh and stick together, closing the pores of the paper and waterproofing it.

More recently, “parchment” for kitchen use is likely to be a heavy paper coated with a silicone, which thoroughly waterproofs and grease-proofs it. Kitchen parchment paper is stronger, easier to cut and handle, and superior in almost all respects to waxed paper. It is nonstick and scorch-resistant at temperatures up to 400 or 500 degrees, depending on the brand, so it can be used, for example, to cover a pastry shell before loading it down with pie weights and baking it.

Parchment is sold as sheets, circles or rolls for lining pans, covering a braise, and notably for baking fish or vegetables en papillote – wrapped in parchment. As the heated air in the package expands, the food cooks in a heady atmosphere of steam and aromas from its own juices.

Freezer paper is a heavy, white kraft (German for “strength”) paper, coated on one side with plastic to make it water- and vapor-proof, thereby preventing the water-vapor losses that cause “freezer burn” in frozen foods. It is relatively difficult to wrap food in, however, and I find other, more resilient vapor-proof coverings such as aluminum foil and plastic wraps to be more convenient. Tight, careful wrapping in these materials also may prevent freezer burn.

Aluminum foil: The virtues of aluminum foil stem mainly from its formability – it retains whatever shape it is pressed into – and its resistance to temperatures up to 1,220 degrees, at which point it melts. But being a metal, it cannot be used in a microwave oven except in very limited situations.

Aluminum foil is made by rolling 98.5-percent pure molten aluminum between large, chilled rollers that solidify it. The final product has a dull side and a shiny side, because in the final rolling, two sheets are sandwiched and rolled together. The sides in contact with the polished rollers come out shiny. It makes no difference which side is in contact with food.

Plastic wraps: Kitchen plastic wraps may be made of polyethylene (Glad Cling Wrap, Handi-Wrap) or polyvinyl chloride (Reynolds Plastic Wrap). Saran has recently changed its plastic from polyvinylidene chloride (Original Saran Wrap) to polyethylene (Saran Premium Wrap) because some people fear anything with chlorine in it. The Premium Wrap has the coolest hassle-free dispensing and cutting mechanism you ever saw.

But there’s an ingenious sticky-on-one-side plastic wrap called Glad Press’n Seal that, according to its legalistic patent description, prevents “inadvertent adherence.” That is, it won’t stick to anything (including itself) until you deliberately place it on a surface and press it. The secret is that it has microscopic spikes on the sticky side that keep the adhesive away from the surface to be covered until you deliberately crush the spikes by pressing

And speaking of sticking, Reynolds produces Reynolds Wrap Release Non-Stick Aluminum Foil, an aluminum foil with nonstick coating on one side. Yes, folks, now when you reheat a slice of pizza in the oven on this foil, the dripping cheese won’t stick.

Civilization has been waiting a long time for this development.

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