Steam frying is a healthy alternative to deep frying, locking in the nutrients in meat, fish and produce. Just a little oil and liquid are all it takes to cook vegetables that are crispy-tender and low in fat. The technique has been used in various forms by the Chinese, French, Italians, Creoles and even the Cherokee because it is fast, easy and versatile.
Tools of the Trade
You'll need a high-quality shallow pan or deep frying pan with a thick base and lid that seals tightly. A non-stick pan might be easier for beginners, but the pros use other types, too, such as cast iron and stainless steel. A good knife is also helpful, whether it's a chef's style or cleaver, as long as it is well sharpened. If necessary, use a sharpening stone to restore the cutting edge to a dull knife. Separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables are ideal, but if you only have one, make sure to cut the veggies first before cutting up the meat to avoid contamination. A wooden spoon or a spatula is also handy to have.
Easy, Basic Technique
Steam frying starts by heating a small amount of oil over high heat. Canola oil is a good choice due to its neutral flavor and high smoke point, but avoid butter, which can burn at high temperatures. The ingredients are then added and sauteed, stirring or shaking the pan constantly, until they being to sizzle. Then a very small bit of liquid is added, which can be water, stock, soy sauce, coconut milk, an alcohol or juice. The pan is covered tightly, the heat turned down and the ingredients steamed until veggies are al dente.
Steam Frying Meat Versus Veggies
For both vegetables and meat, cut them into smaller, similarly-sized pieces so they will cook evenly. Almost any type of meat or vegetable can be used, but meats take longer to cook. One shortcut is to marinate meat pieces first, to help them brown faster. Heavier vegetables like potatoes and onions may need to be cooked for a minute or two before adding lighter veggies like snow peas. Avoid using wet veggies in the pan, as they will instantly cool the heat in the pan. If you combine meat and vegetables in one pan, the meat should cook first and then the vegetables added before closing the lid to start steaming.
A Variety of Choices
Steam-frying is a great way to experience a variety of foods and ethnic cuisines. The Chinese use the steam fry method to cook pot sticker dumplings. For a Mediterranean flair, steam-fry eggplant, zucchini and tomato juice. The sky is the limit when it comes to choosing which combinations to use in your steam fry. Try cabbage steam-fried with herbs and balsamic vinegar, or combine eggplant, peppers, carrots and basil or chicken, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. Steam frying also creates perfect, caramelized onions.