How to Use a Bamboo Steamer to Cook Almost Anything

how to use a bamboo steamer
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You bought yourself a lovely bamboo steamer to make dumplings at home… and now what? While the investment was certainly worth it (anything that related to dumplings is always worth it), a bamboo steamer takes up quite a bit of room in a kitchen cabinet, and it’s a shame for something that large and lovely not to be used on the regular. Once you realize that bamboo steamers — particularly those with multiple tiers — can cook so much more than dumplings, and that they can cook foods quickly, easily and healthily, your bamboo steamer may never go back in the kitchen cabinet again.

Determine your Setup

You don’t want your bamboo steamer to rest directly on the bottom of the pan, where it can burn. You also don’t want your food to be too far away from the simmering liquid, so a deep saucepan is not the ideal vessel to cook over. Your best options: a wok or frying pan with sloped sides that can nestle the steamer but keeping it off the direct flame, or a shallow sauté pan that the steamer basket can rest on top of. 

Choose Your Simmering Liquid

Water isn’t your only option when it comes to steaming! Flavorful liquids — like wine, beer and stock — are excellent for steaming light proteins like fish or poultry. You can also infuse your simmering liquid with herbs, spices, aromatics like garlic, and teas. Whatever you decide on, make sure there is at least two inches of it in the pan before putting your steamer basket over it, and keep some ready to go on the side in the event you need to add more liquid during the cooking process.

Prepare the Basket 

It’s easy to steam most fruits and vegetables, proteins and carbs (like dumpling wrappers) need a little extra help. Bamboo isn’t non-stick, and needs to be lined to ensure you’re not scraping your food off it later. Traditionally organic materials are used for this, like cabbage or banana leaves. Circles of parchment paper work well, too, as long as they’re trimmed slightly smaller than the basket, and have a few holes poked in them for the steam to come through. 

Once you’ve lined your steamer basket, add your food and arrange in a single layer.

If the food is too densely packed it won’t cook evenly, so if you can’t fit everything inside in one go, steam in batches. 

What can you cook in your bamboo steamer?

Steaming is a delicate way of cooking, and it befits delicate foods. Fish, thinly sliced chicken and tofu are excellent protein choices — as their flavors are naturally so mellow, a robust steaming liquid can make some serious magic happen with barely any effort. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, pick ones that are watery and quickly become tender when cooked, like summer squashes, eggplant, mushrooms and leafy greens. If you’d like to steam heartier vegetables, like carrots or potatoes, slice them very thinly so that they can cook quickly.

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