Steaming has long been a popular way to cook vegetables, fish and chicken. With its high temperature (212°, the boiling point of water) and short cooking time, steaming tenderizes food and keeps moisture and nutrients locked in—all without adding fat.
The principle of steaming is simple. A covered pan traps steam to cook the food, which is placed in a perforated container (such as a steamer basket) above boiling water.
There are many kinds of steamers on the market. Collapsible metal steamer baskets are inexpensive and will turn just about any pot into a steamer. It's also easy to make your own by placing a cooling or roasting rack inside a roasting pan. No matter what pan you use, a tight-fitting lid is essential.
An inch of boiling water in the bottom of the pan is all you need. It's important that the water doesn't come in contact with the food cooking above it.
Vegetables are steamed only until they're crisp-tender, so they retain their shape, bright color and appealing flavor.
Helpful Hints on Steaming
- Don't overload your steamer. Food should be spread in a shallow layer so each piece cooks evenly.
- Add subtle flavor by putting fresh herbs, spices, seasoning mixes or flavored vinegar in the water before cooking.
- Leave the lid on and restrain yourself from peeking repeatedly. The temperature and pressure inside the pan need to rise sufficiently to steam the food.
- Timing is important to avoid under- or over-cooking. When food is put in the steamer, the water temperature drops slightly. Begin timing as soon as water begins boiling again.
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