Learn to Cook: Steam

How-To, Learn, Tips & Techniques

Learn to Cook: Steam

New Year’s resolution: learn to cook! This is the year to leave your kitchen fears behind and create fabulous food with ease. To get started, look to our new cookbook Cook Good Food, full of simple techniques and foolproof recipes for everyday eating. Throughout the month, we’ll be sharing key technique primers from the book, along with great recipes to go with them. Start reading — and make good food tonight! 


Steaming is a gentle cooking method; it retains the food’s shape, color, flavor, texture and nutrients, and it’s also healthy — no fats or oils are involved. The technique involves cooking food while suspended over boiling water in a tightly covered pot. During cooking, the rising team released from the boiling liquid surrounds the food to cook. It’s quicker and gentler than boiling, so it’s a great option for delicate foods.


Typically, steaming calls for a steamer basket, rack, or, in Asian cuisine, a bamboo steamer. Be sure the pot you use has a tight-fitting lid that will accommodate both the food and the rack. Steamer baskets are versatile and can fit into a variety of pots; you can also use a metal rack that fits in the pan. A bamboo steamer is a nice option when you’re steaming more than one type of food at a time.


Secrets to Success


Avoid contact. When steaming, the food should not come into direct contact with the water. Make sure the steamer basket or insert sits slightly above the water level.


Spread evenly. Distribute the food in the steamer basket evenly so that the steam can circulate freely around the food. If you won’t have a large enough pot, steam the food in batches.


Take a peek. If ingredients need to steam for a long time, check periodically to make sure the water has not evaporated. Do so quickly, though, so the temperature inside the pot doesn’t drop too much.


Take good care. Hot steam can scald you, so be careful when opening the pot lid. Protect your hand with an oven mitt and open the lid at an angle so that the steam is released away from you.


Remove carefully. Take care when retrieving steamed items from the pot after cooking. Collapsible steamer inserts can be unwieldy. Always protect your hands with an oven mitt.


How to Steam


Set it upSet it up
Pour water into a deep saucepan. Add a steamer basket, insert or rack, making sure that the water line is just below the bottom of the rack.
Add the foodAdd the food
Bring the water to a boil and add the food to the basket, spreading it out to distribute evenly.
Cover & steamCover & steam
Cover the pan and let the food cook in the steam. Reduce the heat so that the water simmers and continues to generate steam.
Steaming shellfishSteaming shellfish
Shellfish come with their own natural “rack” built in. Remove shellfish from the pot as soon as their shells open. Leave the others in the pan to continue steaming.
Steaming fishSteaming fish
Fish is delicate, so it’s best to steam it in a bamboo steamer or on a heatproof plate on a rack.


How to Steam


Crab and Shrimp Salad with Avocado and OrangesCrab and Shrimp Salad with Avocado and Oranges
Showcasing fresh crabmeat and steamed shrimp, this main-course salad makes an impressive and beautiful dish — perfect for a dinner party.
Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad with Pickled Onions and BaconBroccoli and Cauliflower Salad with Pickled Onions and Bacon
Pickled onions contrast perfectly in flavor and color with smoky, salty bacon and cabbage-like steamed broccoli and cauliflower for this simple yet hearty cool-weather salad.
Beer-Steamed Mussels with Salted Black BeansBeer-Steamed Mussels with Salted Black Beans
In this recipe, mussels steam in a fragrant broth of ginger, chilies and light beer, flavored with Chinese salted black beans. If you like, serve the mussels with rice noodles or cellophane noodles.
Shrimp and Pork ShumaiShrimp and Pork Shumai
Shumai are traditional fare on the Chinese dim sum table. If you have two bamboo steamer baskets (or a two-tiered metal steamer), you can steam all of the dumplings at once.
Linguine with ClamsLinguine with Clams
This old-world classic dish stars briny fresh steamed clams in a garlicky wine sauce. Serve plenty of crusty bread alongside the dish to sop up every drop of the flavorful sauce.
Steamed Tilapia with Sesame Seeds, Ginger and Green OnionSteamed Tilapia with Sesame Seeds, Ginger and Green Onion
Here, tilapia fillets are steamed gently and topped with soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds to make a nutritious dish that doesn’t skimp on flavor.
Couscous with Brown Butter and ParsleyCouscous with Brown Butter and Parsley
In this recipe from Moroccan-born chef Mourad Lahlou, couscous is cooked in the traditional way: steamed three times in a traditional couscoussier. While the method is a bit labor-intensive, you’ll be rewarded with tender, fluffy grains that far surpass quick-cooking instant couscous.
Steamed Fig PuddingSteamed Fig Pudding
Steamed puddings are a traditional holiday dessert in England, and those made with dried figs are an especially classic variety. This version has the flavor of a rich bread pudding; it’s topped off with a drizzle of dense syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.

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