Steaming Techniques

Steaming is a technique that involves cooking food in hot vapours over boiling liquid (usually water) rather than in the liquid itself. As the food does not come into contact with the liquid, it remains more nutritious than if it were boiled, as fewer nutrients are destroyed or leached away into the water.

Steaming does not involve the use of any cooking fat, which makes it a good choice of cooking for those on low-fat diets or for invalids who may find fatty food hard to digest. However, because the food is not browned in any way (a method that adds flavour), the food must be of excellent quality and be full of flavour, otherwise the dish may simply taste bland.

In western cooking, steaming is most often used to cook vegetables and rice, and only rarely to cook meats. In contrast, steaming is usually used in Chinese cooking to cook meat dishes such as beef, fish, shellfish, pork and chicken, whereas vegetables are usually stir fried or blanched. Food in one or more stacked rattan or metal baskets with a lid is placed over steaming liquid in a pan or wok for quick cooking.

Other foods may also be steamed, such as traditional English sweet and savoury puddings. A suet mixture is placed into a container, which is then covered with a double thickness of kitchen foil and placed into a pan half-full of water. The pan is then covered and the pudding cooked over low heat for a long time to allow it to steam gently; water is added to the pan periodically to keep the level halfway up the sides of the container.