We’re huge proponents of healthy living. That’s why we compiled 20 Simple Ways to Live a Healthy, Happy Life. We when we heard that bamboo steamers could create delicious, healthy food and a bargain price, we had to test the claims versus the facts.
If you’re into healthy cooking that does not take hours of prepping and cooking time, these circular, multi-tiered cooking utensils just might be the thing for you. Cooking with a bamboo steamer allows your food to retain vital nutrients, create authentic dishes, and cuts down on cooking times due to the high temperature of steam.
Bamboo steamers may not be for everyone, but if your goal is to create healthy meals on a budget, this may be the thing for you.
Why You should Use a Bamboo Steamer
If you’re a traditionalist and like to cook using the time tested methods of the culture from which the food originated, then the appeal of using a bamboo steamer is clear. However, the usefulness of this handy cooking implement lies not only in its traditional and aesthetic qualities, but in the actual end result of the food being prepared.
Light & Healthy
Many people boil their vegetables. This washes away vital nutrients. Using steam is a gentle alternative to cooking your vegetables and other foods. If you are a health-conscious cook, steaming helps preserve the vitamins and minerals in healthy foods.
Preparing your food with a bamboo steamer has other health benefits as well. If you are cooking a food that is very fatty, like meats or certain types of fish, the oils drip off the food and into the boiling water, resulting in a very light meal.
Most bamboo steamers are inexpensive and easy to find. Different types and sizes can be found at almost any specialty kitchen store, and are also in large department store chains like Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, and even online retailers like Amazon. You can buy one for $20 or less, and that usually includes two steamer basket tiers and the lid.
The extremely high temperature of steam allows you to cook your food much quicker than other methods. When you are new to cooking with a bamboo steamer, you need to check the food frequently to make sure it is not being overcooked.
Also, the fact that you can cook several things concurrently contributes to a lesser cooking time as well. For example, you can have fish cooking on one tier, and have vegetables cooking on a second tier stacked right on top of it. The bamboo lid on top of the stacked tower keeps the steam in, ensuring everything gets cooked evenly.
Food Quality & Presentation
Since steaming your food is a much gentler process than other cooking methods, the food not only retains its healthy benefits, but also keeps its shape, natural flavor, texture, and color. Also, steam does not dry out the food as other methods do.
Your food will not get watery or soggy with a bamboo steamer either. Since bamboo naturally absorbs water, there is no condensation inside the steamer that can drip onto the food. Also, it looks impressive when you throw a dinner party and have freshly steamed dumplings served directly in these exotic-looking steamer trays.
Equipment You Need
Cooking with a bamboo steamer is not very equipment-intensive. There are no shiny, expensive kitchen appliances necessary at all. The only required items are the steamer and a wok or pan to place it in. Most kitchens already have something that the steamer will be able to safely sit in. That just leaves the relatively inexpensive cost of the bamboo steamer.
Most steamer baskets come in sets of two tiers and a lid. On the inside of each tier is a cooking surface made of bamboo slats that are closely set apart so that the food will not fall through. However, the distance between the slats is more than sufficient to allow the steam to rise and reach the food.
Bamboo steamers are crafted so that the tiers fit snugly on top of each other without letting steam escape. The lid is woven to a gentle dome shape, efficiently trapping the steam in. If you are going to cook large portions and would prefer to have more tiers than two, make sure to buy the same kind of basket from the same manufacturer. Why risk the chance of the tiers or lid from one set not fitting the other.
Wok or Pan
The ideal cooking utensil to use with your bamboo steamer is the wok. These steamers were designed to be used with woks. With about two inches of water in the wok, your steamer will fit in perfectly, sitting high enough so the food is not touched by the water. The curve of the wok also ensures that the side of your steamer does not touch the hot metal surface. The last thing you want is for the bamboo to get singed.
If you don’t have a wok, an ordinary pan will work well too. Just make sure it’s wide enough. Some people even set the steamer on top of a boiling pot of water. Anything will do just as long as it fits.
The advantage with a pot is that you can put in considerably more water than a pan. This helps when preparing foods with long cooking times. You don’t have to constantly check if the water has evaporated and needs to be replenished.
An interesting innovation that is gaining in popularity is the steamer ring. This is a metal adapter ring which sits on the lip of your pot. In essence, what it does is make the lip of your pot much wider so the bamboo steamer has a stable surface to sit on. Steamer rings are not as easy to find as bamboo steamers, but you can get one from Amazon for under $9.
How to Use a Bamboo Steamer
Using a bamboo steamer is a forgiving method of cooking. A mistake or two will not wreck the meal. However, there are a few things to keep in mind so your food will come out looking and tasting great.
1. Line the Tier
Lining the tier is not an absolute must, but it is a very good idea for several reasons. When cooking something like dumplings, if the tier is lined, it will prevent the food from sticking to the bamboo slats. Lining also prevents the smell of certain foods from permeating the bamboo. You don’t want the broccoli you’re cooking to smell or taste like fish because the last meal you cooked was salmon.
What you line your steamer with is up to you. There are no hard and fast rules about what works best. Some good choices are cabbage leaves, lettuce, banana leaves, or even corn husks. Many people use a sheet of parchment paper cut to size to fit the steamer. You can also buy precut, perforated parchment paper from Amazon. Depending on what size you want, a box of 50 sheets can be bought for under $10.
2. Prepare the Source of Steam
If you are using a wok or pan, fill it with two to three inches of water. Make sure the boiling water will not contact the food when you place the steamer in. If using a pot, you can put in more water since it is considerably deeper.
When using a shallow pan, the sides of the steamer must not be in contact with the pan or the bamboo will burn. It’s a good idea to check and see if your equipment will fit and work well together before you begin. Once the water reaches a gentle boil, you are ready to cook.
3. Steam Your Food
When placing your food in the steamer, there are two ways to do it. The first way is to place what is to be cooked directly on the slats or liner. This results in very light and healthy cooking because the oils present in many meats and fish drips down into the water.
However, some recipes call for the food to be cooked in its natural juices. In this event you can place the food in a dish, then place the dish on the slats of the steamer tier. This way, the natural juices of the food will be retained. Remember to use a dish or plate that can withstand the high temperatures of the steam.
If you wish to prepare an entire meal at once by using two tiers at the same time, remember that the food in the bottom tier will cook faster than the food in the tier above it since it is closer to the simmering water. Let’s say you have one tier with fish, and another tier with vegetables. Depending on the type of fish and vegetables, it’s probably a better idea to put the fish on the bottom, and stack the vegetables on top.
All that’s left now is to cover the tower with the lid and carefully place it in the wok or pan. Check every so often to make sure that the water has not completely evaporated. Also check your food often so as not to overcook. The steam is incredibly hot, so be extra careful.
What You Can Cook
Steaming is a versatile method and can be used to thoroughly cook your meal, or just heat up leftovers. When cooking with a bamboo steamer, you are not limited to just Asian cuisine. Cooking your food by steam can apply to a wide variety of dishes and food groups.
As you may already know, your bamboo steamer is wonderful to use with vegetables, allowing you to easily cook nice, crisp, vibrant looking veggies without that washed-out look or mushy texture. And in the opinion of many a connoisseur, steaming is the only way to prepare dumplings.
Fish is incredibly easy to prepare with steam and cooks in practically no time at all. With some of your favorite spices and a couple of thin slices of lemon placed on top of the fillets, you have a delicious meal with a restaurant-style presentation. Marinated meats and chicken can also be prepared with a bamboo steamer, although the cooking time will be considerably longer.
Seafood such as crab and shrimp dishes are another type of food that steaming produces excellent results with. Some other lesser-known foods that can be prepared with a bamboo steamer are rice and bread. Many people warm up and moisten their day-old bread rolls with steam. Rather than throw out your stale bread, transform it back into something that just came out of a baker’s oven.
If you want to add a little flavor to what you are steaming, use wine or some kind of broth to boil rather than water. This can jazz up the flavor of what you’re cooking by adding a hint of extra flavor. Depending on what you use, the result will probably be a subtle difference in flavor, but even that can make a world of difference.
Bamboo steamers are a snap to clean, especially if you lined the tiers before cooking. Even though these handy utensils can stand terrific heat and steam, they are not dishwasher safe. The best way to clean your steamer is by washing it with hot water. If you can get away without using soap, do so. The soap may linger even after rinsing. If you must, use just a dab of liquid soap, scrub, then rinse several times.
Before you store your steamer, make sure it is thoroughly dry. The last thing you want is mold to grow on the bamboo if it is put away damp. If you follow these simple instructions, your bamboo steamer will last quite a long time, give you lots of great meals, and definitely give you your money’s worth in use.
Many people are beginning to realize that bamboo steamers are a good alternative to other cooking methods and an inexpensive way to prepare light and healthy meals quickly.These handy steamers can be fun to use, and as many people quickly realize, your bamboo steamer may be the most used item in your kitchen very soon.
For more healthy living, check out 8 Healthy & Nutritious Snack Ideas on a Budget.
What aspects of using a bamboo steamer appeal to you most?