When water reaches 212°F, it vaporizes into steam. As the smoky mist rises, it looks gentle and harmless enough – but try putting food in the way of that hot vapor and it will cook nice and fast (let’s not even discuss steam burns...ouch). When food is steamed, it never comes in contact with water; rather, it is cooked by the steam created from boiling a small amount of liquid below the food. Steamer baskets, inserts, and bamboo steamers are all good vehicles for this purpose. They keep the food away from the simmering water beneath, while allowing the vapor to circulate and reach the food through small openings.
Why should you choose to steam over another cooking method, you ask? Steaming is a healthy and uber-easy technique to prepare foods. Here’s why...
- CUT THE FAT. No added fat is required to facilitate cooking like when sautéing or roasting. Therefore fat-free foods stay fat free.
- SAVE THE NUTRIENTS. When foods are steamed, they retain most of their nutrients. This is not the case with boiling, where valuable vitamins and minerals are leached into the water and lost.
- PRESERVE THE COLOR AND TEXTURE. Nothing is moved about or agi-tated when steaming. This makes it ideal for delicate items like fish (which is traditionally steamed in Asian cooking). The moist heat also prevents fish from drying out and locks in flavor. The same applies to vegetables, the fast cooking time aiding in crisp-tender results and bright, vibrant colors.
Now that we are all excited to start steaming, we need to choose the best tool for the job. As mentioned above, we have several options:
Steamer basket or insert– usually metal, with holes or perforations, and can be expandable to fit different size pots. Water is brought to a simmer in a pot, the basket/insert with food is placed on top, and then tightly covered. In the case of a basket, small legs are attached underneath to raise it above the water level. Inserts do not have legs, but rather rest on the rim of the pot.
Bamboo steamer– a good example of “compartment steaming,” slatted bamboo circular containers are stacked one on top of the other and rest over simmering water in a wok. The steam wafts up through the com-partments and different items can be steamed simultaneously in each layer – for example, sturdier dim sum in the bottom (recipe below); gentler quicker-cooking snap peas placed further from the steam in the top.
En papillote- Literally translated "in paper." Most commonly used for fish, this method encloses food in parch-ment or foil with minimal liquid added. The packet is then placed under high heat and steams itself from inside for incredibly moist and flavorful results.
Steam like a Dream
Add flavor to steamed vegetables with bold marinades. Use spice and aromatics to boost meat and fish dishes. Build moisture in delicate dishes that need it – like in my cute Meyer Lemon Ricotta Cakes (recipe below).
Steam it like you mean it – when the fog dissipates, you might discover your next great go-to meal...
Preparing Dim Sum requires patience as it takes time to fill and crimp each one. Prepare a batch in advance and freeze – your family will thank you!
Fresh Mediterranean flavors infuse tilapia with moist succulence in this quick parchment-steamed Tilapia Mediterranea En Papillote. It's a perfect weeknight meal: super-fast, super healthy, super flavorful and almost no clean-up!
MORE: 1 Fish Recipe 3 Ways
Steaming these Italian-style Steamed Meyer Lemon Ricotta Cakes adds necessary moisture to prevent cracking, while at the same time giving a gentle cooking to their delicate texture. Enjoy with lightly sweetened whipped cream and sugared berries.
White asparagus is a bit sturdier than its popular green cousin, maintaining a great crisp texture even when cooked and dressed in this recipe for White Asparagus with Tarragon Dressing. Serve warm or at room temperature.