Steaming was invented before our ancestors discover fire. They warmed up fish and meat with the steam from hot spring. Nowadays, in Western cooking, steaming is usually used to cook vegetables and is rarely used to cook meats. On the other hand, Chinese has been making great use of steaming as one the main cooking methods. Many delicious Chinese foods are steamed and dim sum is one of my favorites. Chinese steam fish, pork spare ribs, chicken and even goose.
How Steaming Cook the Food?
Steaming is a moist-heat cooking technique. Steaming works by boiling water continuously causing it to vaporize into steam. The steam heats up the food and thus cooking the food. My wife and I use a circular container to do so. We have metal steamer as well as bamboo steamer. These steamers have lids which are placed on the top of the containers during cooking.
I personally like to eat steam cooked fish. The cooking liquid (can be wine) and aromatic herbs are gently simmered. The moist environment inside the compartment helps keep the fish juicy. Mussels can cooked the same way too. As the pot heats up, the mussels actually cook in the steam from their own juices. With other spices or just wine alone, the sauce can be very tasty. Vegetables and potatoes can also be cooked with steam. Some vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower can turn soggy when simmered, so steaming is an excellent alternative cooking method.
Benefits of Steam Cooking
- Because the food does not come into direct contact with the boiling water, foods are able to conserve their natural smell, taste, form and color. When food are in contact with water, nutrients may leach away into the water. Therefore, up to 80% of vitamins is retained with steam cooking.
- What I really like about steam cooking is that it helps me to avoid extra calories – using oil. So, if you want to take care of your heart and look after your waist line, I strongly recommend steam cooking. For people over 40 years ago, go for steamed food. For kids, whose oil addiction is not formed yet, steam cooked food is a good way to keep their weight in check.
- If you are like us, coming back home in late evening and do not have time to cook. Little effort is required in the actual cooking process. Once we place the ingredients into the steamer, we will go take a shower. By the time we are done, the food is ready.
10 Tips of Steam Cooking
- Do not place the food into the steamer straight away. Wait for the water to boil. In a busy day, steam cooking actually save much of my time. While waiting for the water to boil, I prepare the ingredient.
- Add as much water to the steamer as possible (as allowed by the steamer). However, do not add too much. Too much water may submerge the food as the water starts to boil. If the steamer runs out of water, to keep the steam going, add hot water rather than room temperature water.
- You can add flavors to the steam cooked food. We normally add lemon peel or ginger to fish. Garlic go well with chicken. If you want Thai flavor, add sliced lemon grass and sliced lime. You can also place the ingredients into the water rather than on the food directly.
- Steaming times depend on the size and type of the food. Small pieces of food can be cooked faster. Leafy vegetables take less time than solid vegetables (like carrot and potato).
- Steam needs room to circulate. So, do not place pieces of food too close to each other with exception of vegetables like broccoli and carrots.
- The fresher the ingredients, the fresher the meal will taste. This is typically the reason I will request live seafood to be steam cooked rather than deep fried.
- I recommend you to defrost frozen meats and fish before cooking.
- If you are using 2 or 3-layer steamer, place meats, fish or juicy foods at the bottom tier so that they do not drip onto foods below.
- Do not lift the cover or the lid too often because water droplets will form and drip onto the food. Taking the lid off too often also lets steam and heat escape which increases cooking time.
- Get a good steaming equipment. A small investment into steaming equipment can reap great benefits in not only preparing Asian cuisine at home, but for many other types of foods as well.
- Bamboo steam basket – I like it the best because of its ability to absorb moisture preventing condensed steam from dripping onto the food. The downside is that you need to thoroughly wash and dry the basket after use, otherwise mold may develop.
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