Steaming is an economical and healthy way to cook that's been used for thousands of years all around the world by moms eager to make nutritious meals that look and taste great. Don't limit your steaming repertoire to just rice and vegetables. With the right equipment and techniques, make almost anything in your steamer that you might otherwise boil, bake or fry.
The most basic steaming equipment is a simple steamer insert that slips into any saucepan. Keep the lid of the pot on tight, though, because it will take longer to cook if some of the steam escapes. A special steamer pot or electric steamer makes it easier to create a whole meal all at once, or use a double boiler with holes in the bottom. Specialty steamers designed to cook foods like whole asparagus, which is often too long to fit into a regular steamer, give you even more options. Bamboo steamers are beloved by Asian cooks and can quickly become a favorite in your own home if your family likes to eat dim sum-style.
A steamer is great for layering foods that work well together. Marinate the meat or seafood portion before cooking to give it extra flavor. For example, set fish fillets that have been marinated in ginger and soy sauce in the bottom of your steamer and layer snow peas, cauliflower florets and asparagus on top. Serve with a bowl of steamed rice for an Asian-inspired fully steamed meal. Steam chicken cutlets marinated in lime juice, cumin and chili powder with corn on the cob added about five minutes before the chicken is done. Serve the steamed vegetables with kid-friendly ranch dip.
Side Dish Sensations
Don't reserve your steamer for only all-in-one meals. Chopped new potatoes and wild rice are two side dishes that come out beautifully in a steamer. Take some tips on steaming from other cultures, too. For example, Asian cooks love to steam snacks like dumplings or soft breads filled with meat or vegetables. You can even cook up dessert in your steamer, such as steamed pears with chocolate sauce or a sponge cake.
Don't use too much liquid when you steam, because that can shift a steamed meal into a boiled one. Don't oversteam your meal, but keep cooking time to a minimum so it doesn't turn into a mushy mess. The thinner the cut, on both meats and vegetables, the shorter the cooking time. If you're in a hurry, chop everything up before tossing it into the steamer.
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