Kitchen Tips

Steam in Style

Steaming is a healthy and tasty way to cook. But like all methods of cooking, it’s important to do it properly. That means use the right equipment and the proper techniques. Flavour and flavour combinations are important, but if you don’t cook your food properly, it’s going to be well-seasoned mush.

The right stuff

There are 3 main tools used to steam food:

Bamboo steamer:

Bamboo Basket

Bamboo steamers are readily available in Asian supermarkets, cooking industry supply stores (think Chef’s Hat) and specialty food stores. You should be able to grab a good one for under $20. They’re also stackable, so if you buy a few, you can steam multiple dishes at once.

Electric steamer:

Electric Steamer

There’s not much “technique” involved with this one, just plug it in, choose your temperature and make sure you don’t overcook anything. Great for beginners.

Metal steamer:

Metal Steamer

Sort of a hybrid between a bamboo steamer and an electric, this is what western Mums and Dads have used to steam carrots for years. It lacks the soul and romance of a bamboo steamer and the practicality of an electric.

The right stuff

If you’ve never steamed before, you’ve come to the right place, because we’re about to show you how! And, seeing as we love traditional Asian food and culture, we’re going to use a bamboo steamer, because why do it any other way?

Before you start, it’s a really good idea to soak your bamboo steamer (and each tier you plan to use) in water for at least 30 minutes. This will greatly help the cooking process.

Make sure your steamer fits snugly into your wok, and isn’t balanced precariously. You don’t want a leaning tower of the steamer!

Finally, line the bottom of your steamer so the food doesn’t come in direct contact with the bamboo. Cabbage and lettuce leaves are traditional, but you can use pandan, banana or baking paper if you prefer. Place your food on top of the liner.

Step 1
Fill the bottom of your pot with enough water (or broth/stock if you want a more aromatic steam) so that it’s just kissing the bottom of the steamer. Remove the steamer, and bring the liquid to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.

Step 2
Place your steamer stand (if using) or your steamer into the wok so that the simmering liquid is just touching the bottom. Stack as many tiers as you need then place the lid on top. Keep an eye on the level of liquid, you don’t want the wok to run dry.

Step 3
Temperature control and timing are really important. You don’t want the steamer to get too hot or too cold, and you want to make sure the food is cooked through but not overcooked. It may take a bit of trial and error to get your meal absolutely perfect.

The beauty of the bamboo steamer is you can simply place the open tiers into the middle of the table and let your guests serve straight from them. Just like yum cha at home! If you’re steaming fish or meat and want to add a sauce, transfer your food to a serving plate or bowl before you do this, as the sauce will leak through the bottom of the bamboo steamer.

Clean up
Make sure you clean each tier thoroughly and dry in the open air. You don’t want the bamboo to grow mould.

Tips and tricks

Now you’ve got the basics down, here’s some extra help that will take your steam game to the next level.

What can I steam?

Buy some pre-made from your local dumpling house or whip up some like mum used to make. You can steam different dumplings on different tiers, and they generally take 15-20 minutes on medium heat. If you like them with a crispy bottom, fry your steamed dumplings in a tablespoon of oil over very high heat for 1-2 minutes or to your liking.

Works best with tender cuts that have been marinated. Steaming will keep the meat juicy and moist, but won’t break down sinew and fat, so stick to cuts like eye-fillet or pork loin.

Steam whole or jointed, and, just like meat, make sure you’ve got a great marinade, broth or sauce to use after the steaming process.

Emperor Herbal ChickenEmperor Herbal Chicken

Steaming was made for seafood. Fish, prawns, cray and shellfish are all delicious when steamed. Make sure you don’t overcook them though! There’s nothing worth than dissolved fish fillet and leathery prawns.

Steamed Garlic PrawnsSteamed Garlic Prawns

Steaming locks in nutrients and keeps veggies crunchy and colourful. Again, make sure you don’t overcook.

No peeking!
Nothing to do with duck, this is all about leaving the lid on for the duration of your cook time. The more times you lift the lid, the more steam escapes, which affects the way your food cooks.

Temperature control
Cannot stress this enough! Make sure the water is at a nice simmer, and not a rolling boil.

Trap that steam!
Cover your lid with a tea towel or wrap foil around the lip of the top tier to help trap as much steam as possible.

Steaming without a steamer

If you think you’ve got this steamer thing covered, or you are desperate to give it a go but don’t have a steamer, well, now you can steam without a steamer!

Step 1
Find a heat-proof/oven-proof plate

Step 2
Place 4 chopsticks in a “tic-tac-toe”/“noughts & crosses” pattern on the bottom of your wok or pan. [insert image]

Step 3
Place the plate on top of the chopsticks, and pour the liquid into the bottom of your pan, but not so much that anything is floating.

Step 4
Cover your wok/pan with a lid, or with a large plate or bowl with a tea towel over the top.


There you have it! Your one-stop steam cheat sheet. And if you’re wondering about what you should cook, check out some of our great steamed recipes!

Steamed Fish Cake
Lotus Leaf Wrap Sticky Rice

You May Also Like

Dim Sum Deep Dive

Dim Sum Deep Dive

Dumpling Dos and Dumpling Don’ts

Dumpling Dos and Dumpling Don’ts


Kate Brodhurst

Rosalin Kristiani

Glenda Mc Donnell

Michael J Sabo

Melinda Savage

Lisa-Jane Fudge

Lillie Giang

Justine Withers

Julia Brodska

Josephine Chan

Sally-Ann Haw

Store Locator

Find your nearest Asian Store


Our Newsletter

Sign up for an authentic Asian experience. From exotic cuisines to fascinating destinations to cooking competitions and monthly giveaways - Discover the Authentic