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The art of cooking is an extremely challenging one that cannot be developed overnight; it takes plenty of practice, perseverance and passion. However, once you’re comfortable with the major cooking methods, cooking should be a breeze. In Asian cooking, steaming is one of the most popular cooking methods. Steaming is the natural fit for lighter and more delicate foods, as it ensures the texture and flavour of the ingredients are uncompromised.
Steaming is a great cooking technique, which cooks the food very gently. Since the liquid never touches the food, there is a lower chance of the food being overcooked. This means the food retains its colour, texture and shape. Cooking with a bamboo steamer is healthier than boiling because the water-soluble nutrients won’t be leeched from the food into the water.
A bamboo steamer is a round vessel with a woven bottom that allows steam to enter and cook the food. They have featured time and time again in Asian recipes. The steamers can be stacked on top of each other to cook multiple foods at the same time. They sit above boiling water in a pot or wok and the top steamer has a lid. Bamboo steamers are inexpensive and easy to use. They can be used to cook vegetables, seafood, chicken, dumplings, steam buns and more.
Key points to remember while cooking in a bamboo steamer:
Preparing It Before Use
Once you have given your steamer a good wash with mild soapy water, it is a good idea to soak all parts of it in water for at least 30 minutes. This helps with the heat distribution within the steamer.
Your steamer should fit nicely within the rim of your wok or pot and not be wider—this will delay the cooking time.
Safety Tips While Cooking
Never place the steamer directly on fire or heat source as it will burn. During the cooking process, make sure the water in the pan is up to the rim of the bamboo steamer. And if the water level is too low, top it up with hot water to prevent the temperature from dropping drastically.
Always handle the steamer and its contents with care as they will be very hot. Use oven mitts or tongs to move things about. Steam and boiling water can cause nasty burns, so always open the lid of the steamer away from you.
Using the Right Method
If cooking food that sticks easily—dumplings, buns, cakes, bao, etc.—line the steamer with baking paper to prevent food from sticking to the bamboo. Just make sure to either poke holes or leave room around the paper for the steam to come through. For additional flavour, lettuce leaves, bamboo leaves or banana leaves can also be placed inside the steamer in place of baking paper. The dumplings or other items are then placed on top of this.
If cooking juicy meals with sauce—such as steamed tofu, meat, fish or prawns—choose a plate or bowl with at least depth of at least 3cm to prevent the juices from your food being wasted into the boiling water below. This also reduces the cleaning effort afterwards. Porcelain or untreated metal dishes work best, but you can also use stoneware and glass dishes.
Vegetables and other foods that do not stick can be simply steamed without an extra dish or liner.
Ensuring Food is Properly Cooked
If cooking in multiple layers of steamers, place foods that have longer cooking time at the bottom of the stack and foods with shorter cooking times towards the top. You can also place foods with similar consistencies and cook times in the same basket so that they will be cooked at the same time.
Always try to place food in an even layer so that it is evenly cooked. Food like dumplings and bao, they should be at least 1cm apart, so they don’t become stuck to each other.
As a guide, fish fillets usually take about 10 mins, but check your food at 2 mins intervals after 10 mins to prevent overcooking.
After Cooking Care
Soon after steaming, rinse the steamer with hot water and check for any food residue. Clean it with a brush and mild soapy water. Alternatively, you can also use vinegar as a cleaning agent. Once clean, allow to air dry to prevent mould and mildew. When fully dry, your bamboo steamers are ready to use again!