How to Cook with a Bamboo Steamer

Whether you’re planning to cook dumplings or looking to experiment with steaming as a way to eat more healthy food, a bamboo steamer is one of the best ways to do it. They’re easy to use, simple to clean and you’ll want to use them again and again! Today we’ll be taking a look at how to cook with a bamboo steamer so that you can get started with this super handy kitchen tool.

How Does a Bamboo Steamer Work?

Bamboo steamers are simple baskets with a lid on top. Because the baskets are designed to interlock, you can stack several of them on top of each other and cook multiple dishes simultaneously.

To cook, the basket is placed into a pot of simmering water. Steam from the pot rises through the slated bamboo of the steamer basket, but is not able to escape through the thicker, woven lid. This traps in the steam and cooks your food to perfection.

Bamboo steamers have an advantage over metal and plastic steamers because they absorb water from the steam. In a metal or plastic steamer, moisture re-condenses on the lid and falls back onto the food. This can make a noticeable difference to the taste and texture of the final product.

Benefits of Steaming Food

Steaming is a really healthy approach to cooking. This is because no fat or oil is used and, unlike boiling, all minerals and vitamins are retained. As an added bonus, steamed food also tastes delicious!

Compared to boiling, steamed vegetables hold on to more of their taste and have crisper texture. Steamed vegetables also retain 50% more of their nutrients – especially vitamins B and C which are water soluble and often lost when boiling.

Steaming vegetables is also quick. Steaming florets of broccoli or slices of carrot takes about 12 minutes whilst others, such as Mange tout, can be perfectly cooked in just five minutes.

Of course, it’s not just vegetables. Bamboo steamers can be used to prepare a wide variety of foods including rice, dumplings, fish, chicken and other meats. In fact, you can cook entire meals using only bamboo steamers – and many people do!

How to Cook with a Bamboo Steamer

What You Need

  • A clean bamboo steamer – enough baskets to hold the required amount of food.
  • Lining
  • A wok or shallow pan
  • A Kettle – this will allow you to top up the pan with boiling water during cooking.
  • Oven mitts
  • Your chosen ingredients

Step 1: Fill your Pan with Water

To begin, place your bamboo steamer into a pan. Using a wok is the traditional approach but you can use any wide-rimmed shallow pan.

Add water to the pan until the bottom rim of the steamer is submerged. It’s important that there is enough water in the pan to prevent the steamer from scorching, but not so much that bubbles from the boiling water go up through the bottom of the basket and touch any food on it. For best results make sure the water is roughly half an inch above the bottom rim.

Step 2: Line your Bamboo Steamer

You can place food directly on to the slats at the bottom of the basket, however food will often end up sticking to the bamboo. Using a liner will make serving and cleaning much easier.

Whatever you choose to line the steamer with needs to be porous so that the steam can enter the basket. One of the most common liners is parchment paper – there are also liners made specifically for bamboo steamers. You may instead want to opt for reusable liners made from cloth or silicone.

As an alternative to man made liners, you can also make use of cabbage or lettuce leaves.

Steamed Korean Dumplings in Bamboo Steamer

Step 3: Add Food

Now for the fun part – adding the food!

Arrange the food items in a single layer in the basket. Make sure that there is enough of a gap between each piece for steam to rise through the spaces and circulate in the basket.

If you’re cooking dumplings or buns, it’s important to take extra care not to place them too close together. This is because during the cooking process they will expand and could end up sticking.

When cooking with several baskets that will be stacked, the basket containing food that needs to be cooked for longer must be placed on the bottom. Food that needs the least cooking time should be placed at the top of the stack.

Step 4: Place Steamer into the Pot

Place your steamer into the pot and turn on the heat. Bring the water to the boil and start timing for as long as the recipe instructs.

A great tip is to add herbs to the boiling water when you start steaming as some of the fragrance and flavor will be absorbed into the food being steamed.

Step 5: Allow Food to Cook

Leave the steamer in the simmering water for as long as the recipe indicates. As the water in the pan boils, you’ll notice that it starts to evaporate. To protect your steamer from scorching and to make sure you have enough water to cook for the full length of the recipe you may need to top up the pan. It’s important to add boiling water from the kettle when you do this, as adding cold water will slow down cooking.

A quick tip when cooking a stack of baskets containing food that takes around the same time cook. Around halfway through cooking, swap the baskets around so the food in each cooks evenly.

Step 6: Serve and Enjoy!

Once all of the food is fully cooked, turn off the stove. Using oven mitts, take the steamer out of the pot. Remove the lid, taking care to lift it away from you as the steam that comes out of the top can burn you.

Take food out of the steamer, place on serving dishes and enjoy a delicious meal!

Caring for Your Bamboo Steamer

Now that you know how to cook with a bamboo steamer, you should be raring to get started! To keep your bamboo steamer in great condition shape and ready to whip up delicious meals again and again, it’s important to properly look after it.

Though it may be tempting, never put your bamboo steamer in a dishwasher. Instead, gently clean the inside of the steamer baskets with a soft nylon brush and warm water. Rinse and leave to naturally air dry.

Store your bamboo steamer in a cool and dry place to prevent mold and mildew.