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How to cook steamed food

Sarah Swain takes us through the steps to create flavoursome, healthy steamed foods.

Steaming is the method of cooking food in hot vapour rather than liquid. You place food over boiling liquid (usually water or a mix of water and stock) and it is cooked by the hot vapours as the fluid underneath boils.

Because the food never touches the liquid, the loss of nutrients is reduced and food flavours are richer.

  • If you don’t have a steamer, improvise! Create a steamer by putting a metal colander over a pan of simmering water. Fill with food, then top with a lid.
  • You can buy reasonably priced steamers made of bamboo or stainless steel. They are usually round and similar to double saucepans, except the top layer has holes in its base. Steam from the boiling water in the lower pan rises through the holes to cook food, while the tight fitting lid in the upper pan keeps in the steam.
  • Another option is a stainless steel plastic or aluminium basket which opens and folds shut like a fan. This can be used with an ordinary lidded saucepan. The basket stands on its own short legs to keep it clear of boiling water and it fits inside most saucepans.

Whatever type of steamer you use, here are a few points to remember:

  • Bring the water to a rolling boil (bubbles all over), and add food (fish, vegetables, meat) to the steamer in a single layer.
  • The steamer should be about 2.5cm above the boiling water, and the steamer should be covered with a tight-fitting lid to retain the heat.
  • If you don’t want to wrap food in vegetable leaves, wrap food in a greaseproof paper parcel if you wish to cook, for example, a steak with herbs and ginger.
  • Vegetables: Always choose the freshest ingredients when steaming. Without the addition of any oil, their true flavour will come through.
  • Fruit: Create fruit parcels by placing a mix of chopped mango, orange, pear and banana in foil or cooking paper parcels with a little orange juice and fresh mint. Seal and steam for 10 minutes before serving with low-fat yoghurt.
  • Tender pieces of meat: Use fresh garlic, ginger and herbs to enhance the flavour.
  • Fish steaks or fillets and shellfish: Steaming times vary with the size and quantity of fish. Allow 8-10 minutes for fillets, 10-15 minutes for steaks.

Steamed ginger salmon

First published: Feb 2010



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