There are a lot of ways to steam food, but using a bamboo steamer is perhaps the easiest, healthiest, and most sustainable method. Since it uses all-natural materials, it can help maintain the freshness, preserve the flavor, and keep the nutrients of your meals.
In this article, we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about bamboo steamers, and provide instructions on how to use this versatile cooking tool.
Table of Contents
Everything You Need to Know About Bamboo Steamer | How to Cook with a Bamboo Steamer
What Is a Bamboo Steamer?
If you’ve been to a Chinese restaurant, you’ve probably seen some straw-colored steamer baskets. Those are what we call “bamboo steamers”.
A bamboo steamer is traditionally used in the Chinese method of cooking. It’s composed of interlocking baskets that are piled on top of one another and have a snugly fitting lid on top. The whole basket is placed on a pot or wok of simmering or hot water.
It’s made with skinned bamboo and shaped into a circle. A metal wire mesh helps keep its round shape.
At the bottom of the steamer, there are open ridges or bamboo slats. These are where the steam rises and goes up through the layers to cook the food inside.
You may use a bamboo steamer to cook a variety of foods, such as:
- Fresh vegetables
- Dim sum
Bamboo steamer baskets are also great for reheating dishes. Since steaming adds moisture to meals, these baskets can restore the freshness of your food.
What Are the Advantages of Using a Bamboo Steamer?
A bamboo steamer allows you to cook meals healthily since you don’t have to use oils and unhealthy fats. It cooks dishes evenly without drying them out. It’s also low-priced and ecological. Plus, it’s lighter than a stainless steel steamer.
Additionally, bamboo steamers come in different tiers and sizes, which enable you to cook different foods at the same time. What’s more, since bamboo steamers are visually appealing, you can serve the meals directly from these baskets, and bring them right to your table!
Another good thing about a bamboo steamer is its lid–it absorbs any condensation. This keeps water from dripping down onto the food, which could affect its taste, appearance, and texture.
How Do I Cook with a Bamboo Steamer?
If you’re ready to learn the art of cooking with a bamboo steamer, here are the step-by-step instructions you need to follow:
Step 1: Prepare the Necessary Items
Be sure your equipment is complete before you start steaming:
- Bamboo steamer: Your steamer baskets must be clean. If they’re newly bought, follow the instructions on how you can sanitize them below.
- Liners: These help prevent your food from sticking to the steam baskets. Ensure that their size fits your bamboo steamer’s diameter. One example of a liner is parchment paper.
- Vessel: This refers to the container that’ll hold the hot water. It’s also where the whole basket will sit. It can be a pot, a deep pan, or a wok.
- Utensils: Prepare tongs or spatula so you can safely take the food out of the steamers.
Step 2: Clean Your Bamboo Steamers
This part is helpful especially if your steamer baskets are new.
Wash each bamboo steamer with a sponge and hot soapy water–a quick scrub will do. Then, rinse thoroughly.
Soak the bottom layer in hot water for one to two hours. Since this part will touch your pan or wok, soaking it will make sure that it won’t burn or scorch once you start cooking.
Afterward, take the steamer out of the water, and dry it well. The recommendation is to air dry your bamboo steamers for two days to avoid mold formation.
Note: Don’t place your bamboo steamers inside a dishwasher, as they’re too delicate for the high pressures of this machine.
Step 3: Put Water in Your Wok
Fill your pot or wok with water until it reaches the bottom rim of the bamboo steamer.
Note that a few inches of water are sufficient for successful steam. Don’t put too much water to the point that the base is already submerged.
Pro Tip: A wok is your best option when it comes to cooking with bamboo steamers. It’s thin, which makes it easier to bring the water to a boil and adjust the water temperature. Additionally, its rim is wide, which can accommodate various bamboo steamer sizes.
Step 4: Line Your Bamboo Steamer
Depending on how many dishes you want to cook, you may have one, two, or three levels of steamer baskets. However, you have to line each steamer before you place your food so it won’t stick to the bamboo.
You may use any of the following:
- Cabbage leaves
- Parchment paper liners
- Wax paper
- Lettuce leaves
- Silicone steamer liners
- Reusable cotton liners
- Lotus leaves
- Banana leaves
- Pandan leaves
- Corn husks
Pro Tip: Whatever you use as liners, they must be porous. The holes will let the steam rise from the bottom of the steamer and move through the layers.
Step 5: Place Food inside Your Bamboo Steamer
As you put your food inside the steamer basket, leave around an inch between each item. Keep in mind that they’ll expand during the steaming process, so they need enough room to stretch.
Additionally, don’t put too much food in one steamer basket to avoid overcrowding. Leaving some space around the dish will help the steam to circulate around your food.
Pro Tip: If you’re steaming frozen food items, such as buns or dumplings, you don’t have to thaw them! You may directly place them inside the bamboo steamer.
Step 6: Put Your Bamboo Steamer in Your Pot or Wok
Place your steamer basket into your preferred cooking pot. Make sure that the entire bamboo steamer fits and is stable inside your wok or pot.
Then, turn up the flame to slowly increase the temperature and start cooking.
Alternatively, you may preheat the water, so that when you put the bamboo steamer baskets, the water is already simmering.
Step 7: Steam Your Food
You may add some fresh herbs to give your meals extra flavor. Then, cover the top layer with a lid.
As the water simmers, you’ll notice that it’ll begin to evaporate. Watch out for the water level, and add water if necessary, but add only boiling or hot water. Putting cold liquid will interrupt the simmering process.
Here’s an overview of the estimated cooking times with a bamboo steamer for various food types:
- Sugar snap peas: 5 to 6 mins
- Broccoli florets: 5 to 7 mins
- Corn on the cob and butternut squash: 7 to 10 mins
- Sliced potatoes: 8 to 12 mins
- Whole baby carrots: 10 to 12 mins
Pro Tip: To steam fresh vegetables to perfection, check its thickest part. If you can slice it effortlessly, then it’s cooked just right.
- One-inch fish fillet or fish steak: 5 to 8 mins
- Whole fish: 10 to 12 mins
Pro Tip: If the fish is already fork-tender, then it’s perfectly done. You may also experiment and try to add scallions, ginger, and soy sauce to achieve a Chinese-style dish.
- Chicken breast: 25 to 30 mins
What Are the Best Bamboo Steamers?
There are a lot of bamboo steamers you can choose from. But to make it easier for you to decide which one to have, we’ve narrowed down the list.
Here are the three best bamboo steamers that you can purchase on Amazon:
This bamboo steamer is made from 100% bamboo, which makes it an all-natural, eco-friendly cooking companion in your kitchen. It’s also handwoven, giving you a neat, attractive, and traditional look.
It has two tiers, with a 10-inch diameter, which are enough if you’ll cook for yourself or for a small group of people. However, this may not be ideal if you need to prepare meals for a large crowd.
If you’re a newbie when it comes to using a bamboo steamer, this piece from Prime Home Direct is the perfect match for you.
You’ll find everything you need in this kit, as it includes the following bonus items:
- Steamer liners
- Chopstick sets
- Sauce dish
This also makes for a great gift to your loved ones!
It’s one of the more versatile options on the market, as it has a three-inch depth. Plus, it’s available in 10- and 12-inch sizes.
One of the things that set Hcooker bamboo steamer apart from other steamer baskets out there is its 3-tier design. This construction allows you to be flexible when steaming your meals. You may either use all three steamers to give you more room to prepare your meals, or use only or two if you’ll just cook in small batches.
Another feature that makes it stand out is its stainless steel bands. These bands enhance the durability of the bamboo steamer and help each steamer fit together. They also give the bamboo a combination of modern and traditional look.
Finally, it’s available in a variety of sizes, from seven to 12 inches. Now, it’s easier for you to look for a bamboo steamer that would match your cooking needs.
A bamboo steamer is such a useful tool not only in Asian cooking but in any type of kitchen. It has been around for thousands of years, making it one of the most traditional tools in cooking.
With all its benefits, there’s no reason not to own this cookware. They’re affordable, efficient, practical, and easy to use. You can cook almost any food with it–from fish to dumplings, poultry to vegetables, and grains to seafood.
So, what are you waiting for? Start taking advantage of a bamboo steamer, and feed your mind, body, and soul with healthy meals.
Need a guide in using different kitchen tools? Visit our page to learn more about kitchen gadgets and appliances, as well as how to use them to make your cooking more efficient and enjoyable.
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