Certain recipes call for parchment paper, which is a heat-resistant, nonstick paper that's used in several ways when cooking and baking. It acts as a liner for baking sheets and cake pans to prevent sticking and reduce browning. You can also make pouches out of it, called en papillote, to cook fish, chicken, and vegetables. It's also a good nonstick surface for rolling out dough. Parchment paper also helps to cut down on the number of dishes that you have to wash—line your pans with it, and they'll still be clean when they come out of the oven.
All virtues aside, parchment paper isn't an absolute necessity. It can be difficult to find and can also be expensive. Luckily, there are three good substitutions, two of which you probably already have on hand.
This common household item acts similarly to parchment paper; it can be used to line pans and be made into a pouch. When lining baking sheets and pans with aluminum foil, you do need to grease the top of the foil to prevent the food from sticking. You also need to keep in mind that foods on foil tend to cook a bit faster, so keep a close eye on the oven toward the end of the cooking or baking time. If you're making cookies, expect the bottoms to be a bit crispier.
You can use foil to create a pouch for cooking fish, chicken, and vegetables. In fact, foil pouches seal better and don't require a special folding technique. And, unlike parchment, aluminum foil pouches can go on the grill or in the coals of a campfire.
Since parchment paper is often used to create a nonstick surface, greasing the pan will accomplish the same results. Coat your cookie sheet or pan with cooking spray, butter, or oil. Then, lay the food directly on the pan. This will work for everything but the most delicate or gooey treats.
Silicone baking pads, often referred to by the brand name Silpat, are a great replacement for parchment paper. Just drop one onto your baking sheet, and whatever you cook or bake on it will come right off. There's no need to grease your pan, and there's very little to clean up afterward.
If you don't own any silicone pads or bakeware, a piece or two is definitely worth adding to your kitchen collection. They don't cost much and can be used hundreds of times before they need to be replaced. Like parchment paper, these baking mats help to keep your baking sheets clean, so you don't have to wash them after every use. You can even use Silpats as a nonstick surface when you roll out dough.
Saving Money With Parchment Paper
If you're looking for alternatives to parchment paper because you can't bear to pay the high price tag, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, try a dollar store; the rolls may be smaller, but they cost very little. Also, remember that parchment paper is reusable, so you can save even more by reusing it until it becomes dark, brittle, or messy.