No Kitchen Is Complete Without a Steamer Basket—Here’s Why

Steamer Basket

Let’s talk about the places in your life where you’re already cooking with steam. When you place a lid on top of a bowl in the microwave, you’re capturing the power of steam to reheat and rehydrate your food. When you bring your Instant Pot up to high pressure, do you know what that means? It means letting the steam build up inside the pot, which builds pressure. That pressurized steam is what cooks your food so quickly. When you leave a pot of rice covered after removing it from the heat. That is also steaming!

The takeaway here is the steaming is a cooking technique that is often used incidentally, but rarely appreciated on its own. It’s easy to celebrate crispy, crunchy, fatty foods, but steaming is often associated with diet food because it eliminates the need for oil in cooking. But where frying and roasting and sautéing can leave delicate, low-fat proteins over-cooked and dried out, or overwhelm the simplicity of beautiful vegetables with the flavors of fat and char, steaming imbues food with moisture and amplifies the already present flavors. It’s also worth mentioning that steaming is a faster cooking method than roasting, since the steam conducts heat faster than air.

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Steaming alone does not result in an exceptional meal. Seasoning is arguably more important here, since you’re concentrating the flavors of the food you’re cooking—so be sure to generously season with salt before cooking, and don’t overlook the importance of a sauce, either. Condiments, from something as simple as a drizzle of soy sauce to as complex as a homemade pesto, are what takes steamed food over the top. Use them as an opportunity to introduce the fat and acid that you might otherwise incorporate while stir-frying or sautéing.

There are a variety of styles you can try, but a classic bamboo steamer is utilitarian, easy to clean, and looks cute hanging on your wall if you’re running low on cabinet space. They come in a variety of sizes, so to determine the best option for you, consider what cookware you’ll want to use it with. If you have a wok, you can set the basket over a cup or two of simmering water, which sends the steam up through the basket, capturing it under the woven lid. If you’re wok-less, pick a size of basket that will fit inside your dutch oven, or simply inside a wide saucepan. Ten inches is generally a good option. You can find a variety of steamers online or at your local asian grocer.

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