Muslin fabric bags are inexpensive handy reusable items I like to have around the kitchen. They are soft semi sheer bags made of a loosely-woven cotton fabric called muslin (or “calico” in the UK and Australia). Not only do they make soups clear and keep flavors pure to its inherent taste and character, they also make foods more safe for young children and elders as described in my cooking technique post on making a fish soup creamy white.Muslin bags are a convenient way to remove small cooking ingredients or sediments (e.g. fish bones and sandy residue from root herbs) that children and seniors are more prone to choke on. I also use muslin bags when food presentation is important. They help keep long-boiled or slowly-stewed ingredients stay intact at the end of the cooking process.
What to Look for in a Muslin Bag for Your Cooking Needs
As a naturalist, I often opt for natural things. And in this case, there are good specific reasons why muslin bags meant for culinary use should be made of natural unbleached or even organic cotton. These bags can be cooked for several hours inside your soup or stew. The more natural the muslin bag is, the less likely chemicals from the bag can contaminate your food, albeit the amount will be small. Look for muslin bags made of organic unbleached cotton, even for the drawstrings and stitching. The natural color of unbleached muslin cotton fabric should be an off-white.
Most culinary muslin bags come with drawstrings on one side. This is an useful feature as it allows you to shut and tie the bag opening securely to prevent food from slipping out during the cooking process. A high quality muslin bag should be made of a fabric with strong weave but still allow liquid (and hence flavor) to flow through.I would also look for a muslin bag that is slightly larger than what you think you need. For one, the cotton fabric may shrink a little after its first contact with heat. Also, you’ll need space at the top of the bag to shut it close. Muslin bags are typically not gussetted, and space should be factored in for fill thickness and for the drawstring tying. A good rule of thumb is to reserve 1.5″ – 2″ of space at the top for tying. The muslin bag I own is about 8.5″ wide x 10″ high. Although this size has served me well in most cases, the bag does feel a bit small when trying to put a whole fish (about 1.5 lbs and chopped in half) in for cooking. If a medium sized bag suits your needs, here is one I found (8″ x 10″) that you can check out. If you want a slightly larger muslin bag, I found this all-natural (8″ x 12″) one that can be considered as well.
Before the First UseAfter you purchase a muslin bag, it is important to wash it by rinsing in clean water. I also boiled mine in water for 10 minutes before actually using it in my soup cooking. This, however, is an optional step based on your paranoia level. =)