Steaming Made Easy With the Right Asian Cooking Supplies

Next to stir-frying, steaming is an important and widely used cooking technique in the Asian kitchen. Most kitchens in Asia do not have ovens, therefore baking or roasting are not commonly used cooking techniques. Instead, dumplings, breads, cakes, and other desserts are steamed. There are also wonderful soups and meat dishes, and of course, superb fish and seafood specialties that are cooked to perfection in the gentle, moist heat of a steamer. Steaming is also a perfect way to refresh stale bread and reheat leftovers that would otherwise dry out or overcook on the stove, in the oven, or in the microwave.

Steaming has gained popularity in the Western kitchen for its convenience, simplicity, health benefits and energy savings. Steaming envelopes the food in a hot, moist environment so it won’t dry out. And unlike boiling, natural juices, minerals and vitamins as well as color in foods are retained and not drained out in the sink. Steaming is also a very low fat way to cook because you need very little or no oils. Although you can’t burn food in a steamer, you can over -cook it so timing is important.

The traditional Chinese steamer is made of natural bamboo, a sustainable grass that is strong, grows quickly and is plentiful.  Bamboo steamers can range in size from a tiny 4-inch diameter for dim sum to large commercial-sized steamers that can steam several platters of whole fish at once.

At Helen’s Asian Kitchen, we have beautiful handmade bamboo steamers for home use in four practical sizes: 4", 6", 10" and 12" diameters. These steamers are strong, durable and constructed completely of natural bamboo with bamboo pegs and bamboo lacing for strength, durability and beauty. There are no metal staples, wires or plastic which can rust or loosen with use.
The beauty of bamboo steamers extends from their aesthetics to their practicality. The bamboo lid is double woven so that steam is trapped inside the steamer to cook quickly and efficiently with little heat loss. The lid also absorbs any condensation from steaming so water droplets won’t fall on the food you are steaming. We have all experienced heavy condensation on the inside of cookware lids that drip water onto food when the lid is lifted. Controlling condensation is especially important when steaming breads, dumplings and cakes which can be ruined from excess moisture.  The steamer is so attractive; it can be brought right to the table for serving.  It will also help to keep foods hot during the meal.

A Better Way to Use The Bamboo Steamer the Helen's Way

Boiling water frequently or for long periods of time in a carbon steel or non-stick wok or stir fry pan is not recommended. The boiling water will strip the seasoning from a carbon steel wok encouraging rusting. In a non-stick pan the boiling water may weaken the nonstick because nonstick coatings are developed for cooking with oil, and not for boiling water. In addition, woks can’t hold enough water for the steaming process so there’s always the need to replenish with more boiling water.  And the outer edge of the bamboo steamer often scorches or burns as it is pressed against the hot sides of a wok.

Instead of using a wok I prefer to use a large saucepan or stockpot as the base for my bamboo steamer. In this way, the wok is available for stir-frying, the boiling water won’t damage your well-seasoned or nonstick wok, there’s a large capacity for water, and the straight sided stock pot takes up less space on your stove.

For this reason, I invented my Steaming Ring. It looks like a flat metal ring with a large hole in the center. It’s designed to sit on top of an uncovered saucepan or stockpot. The bamboo steamer is then placed securely on the ring and now you can conveniently steam over any large pot.

I use mine all the time. It not only makes the bamboo steamer simpler and easier to use, but it also helps keep the steamer cleaner and avoids scorching from the hot sides of a wok.
Another steamer helper are my Parchment Steamer Liners. Instead of using cabbage leaves or tediously cutting out rounds of waxed paper, these 9 ½” perforated parchment paper liners fit right into the bamboo steamer. Breads, dumplings and even Thai sticky rice won’t stick, vegetables won’t stain the steamer and after cooking, you simply throw the used liner away.  What could be easier!

Helpful Steaming Tips:

  • Bring water to a full boil before placing food in the steamer.
  • Food should not be placed directly in the bamboo steamer without a plate (if the food is marinated, such as fish and meat) or parchment liner (if food is dry, such as buns and dumplings).
  • The boiling water should not be allowed to touch the food or plate with food.
  • To avoid damage to your cookware, never let the pan boil dry.
  • Allow at least 1-inch space between the sides of the plate and the sides of the steamer. And be sure there’s adequate head space under the lid so that the steam can freely circulate around the food.
  • Steam is very hot.  Open the steamer slowly with the lid facing away from you, keeping your face away from the steam.   Avoid opening the steamer too frequently to keep steam from escaping.
  • Wash the bamboo steamer with only warm water and a brush. Avoid using soap as the fragrance from the soap could be absorbed into the bamboo. Thoroughly air dry and store in a well ventilated location.


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