Steaming is a gentle cooking method that retains the food’s shape, color, flavor and texture. It can be a healthy form of cooking because there are no oil or added fats involved and the nutrients are retained. During cooking, the rising steam released from a boiling liquid surrounds the food to cook it gently. Some steamed foods, such as shellfish or artichokes, come into direct contact with a small amount of the simmering liquid, but the steam is still the main cooking agent.
Typically, steaming calls for using a steamer basket, rack or, in the case of Asian-style cooking, a tiered bamboo steamer, all of which help elevate the food above a boiling liquid. Be sure the pot you use has a tight-fitting lid that will accommodate both the food and the rack, as well as hold in the steam as the food is cooking.
For successful steaming, keep these tips in mind:
- Avoid contact: When steaming, the food should not come into direct contact with the water.
- Spread evenly: Distribute the food in the steamer basket evenly so that the steam can circulate freely around the food.
- Take a peek: If ingredients need to steam for a long time, check periodically to make sure the water has not evaporated.
- Take good care: Hot steam can scald you, so open the pot lid carefully. Protect your hand with an oven mitt and open the lid at an angle.
How to Steam
Set it up
Pour water into a deep saucepan. Add a steamer basket, insert or rack, making sure that the water line is just below the bottom of the rack.
Add the food
Bring the water to a boil and add the food to the basket, spreading it out to distribute it evenly.
Cover and steam
Cover the pan and let the food cook in the steam. Reduce the heat so that the water simmers and continues to generate the steam.
Shellfish come with their own natural “rack” built in. Remove the shellfish from the pot as soon as their shells open. Leave the others in the pan to continue steaming.
Fish is delicate, so it’s best to steam it in a bamboo steamer or on a heatproof plate on a rack.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cook Good Food (Weldon Owen, 2014).