There are two main methods for steaming foods – boiling and using a steamer.
Now while boiling your foods is an easy way to get them hot and cooked, there’s actually a better method that locks in more nutrients and flavors.
I should know – I’ve been steaming up a storm in the kitchen for over 20 years!
When I was a kid, my grandma used to have me peel mountains of potatoes and carrots to boil for her big family dinners.
Let me tell ya – that water would get so cloudy and murky from all the good stuff leaching out of the veggies! One time I accidentally dropped a whole bag of baby carrots in and they practically dissolved.
Later on, my neighbor Betty – she’s a whiz in the kitchen – taught me her secret for steaming.
“It keeps the vitamins and makes the food so tender,” she said with a wink.
Well let me just say my steamed broccoli was like buttah after that! Betty sure knows her onions, or should I say her greens? Haha!
In this guide, I’ll give you the lowdown on boiling vs steaming and show you my pro tips for getting restaurant-quality meals right at home.
Whether you’re a beginning chef or a seasoned pro, you’ll learn what’s really going on under the lid and discover ways to get the most flavor and nutrition from your veggies, seafood and more.
Keep reading to get steamed!
What are the two methods of steaming food?
The two methods of steaming food are the traditional stovetop method using bamboo steamers, commonly used in Asian cuisine, and the modern approach involving steamers and ovens for a wider range of dishes.
These methods offer distinct ways to achieve delicate textures and preserve nutrients in various types of ingredients. (1)
Exploring Traditional Steaming with Bamboo Steamers on Stovetop
For generations, bamboo steamers (2) have been an essential kitchen tool in many Asian homes.
Constructed from the versatile bamboo material, these stackable trays effectively conduct heat while allowing foods to steam above simmering water.
As someone who grew up enjoying home-cooked meals made with this method, I have seen first-hand how steaming retains nutrients and maximizes flavor.
My grandmother, a masterful chef, always kept several bamboo steamers on hand.
She would skillfully lay out vegetables, dumplings filled with shrimp and pork, fluffy rice, and other dishes within the trays.
The filled steamers would then be positioned over a pot of boiling water, trapping the rising hot steam to gently cook the food.
Within a short time, her steamer would reveal beautifully prepared dishes ready to enjoy.
Research indicates that bamboo steaming may preserve up to 20% more vitamins and minerals compared to boiling.
It also helps ingredients maintain their natural taste while keeping textures tender.
Even proteins like chicken and fish turn out juicy and flaky when steamed versus other cooking methods that could dry them out.
Placing herbs, spices, or sauces within the boiling water further infuses flavor throughout.
For those seeking to prepare classic Asian home cooking, traditional bamboo steamers are a simple solution.
One can just arrange prepared items on steamed rice and cover the stacked trays to allow steaming.
Cleanup is also efficient since no food touches the stovetop.
Overall, this technique promises nutritious and satisfying meals with minimal effort.
Modern Steaming: Using Steamer Inserts and Ovens
Contemporary kitchen tools now offer greater steaming versatility beyond traditional bamboo steamers.
Stainless steel steamer inserts, for instance, are dishwasher safe for fast cleanup of large batch recipes.
Silicone steamers nest easily in saucepans of varying sizes as well.
Electric multi-pot models and countertop appliances further take the guesswork out of perfectly steam cooking rice, vegetables, and more at the touch of a button.
The oven also provides a hands-free steaming method.
Simply add a small amount of water to an oven-safe dish, then arrange prepared ingredients on a steamer rack or directly on oven rack slots.
This style of cooking lends itself well to dishes requiring longer cook times, like whole fish filled with citrus and fresh herbs.
No risk exists of boil over messes on the stovetop either.
Contemporary steaming gadgets unlock possibilities for busy families.
Where bamboo steamers excel for shorter preparation times, modern steamer inserts, pots, and oven steaming expand options for entire meals and greater product quantities.
With numerous versatile tools available, maintaining nutrition through gentle moist heat cooking methods has never been more achievable.
You may be surprised at how frequently you prepare meals this way!
Pros and Cons of Stovetop Steaming with Bamboo Steamers
As an avid home cook for many years, I have found bamboo steamers to be a versatile kitchen tool for Asian-inspired dishes.
However, there are certainly advantages and limitations to consider when steaming over a pot.
A major plus is how easy bamboo steamers make it to cook multiple steamed foods simultaneously using the stackable trays.
The material effectively conducts heat without allowing direct contact with boiling water below.
Another advantage is this method retains high amounts of nutrients according to various studies.
Steaming also extracts flavors from herbs or other aromatics added to the cooking liquid.
On the downside, bamboo steamers require constant monitoring to avoid over or under-cooking delicate foods since timing can vary significantly between ingredients.
The number of steamers one owns also determines how much can be cooked at once when serving large groups.
Cleanup may also take more effort compared to other single pot methods.
For those embracing Chinese or other Asian cuisines, bamboo steamers are certainly a handy cooking accessory.
But their limitations should be considered depending on one’s needs in the kitchen.
Other steaming equipment options provide advantages over stovetop bamboo steamers.
Advantages and Drawbacks of Modern Steaming Methods
Contemporary steaming appliances offer versatility beyond traditional bamboo steamers to suit varying lifestyles.
Electric steamer pots take the guesswork out of perfect results by automatically monitoring temperature and cooking time.
Models exist for families, couples, or single serve portions.
Oven-safe steaming inserts allow for entirely hands-free cooking of meals and larger batches using residual oven heat.
Simply place water in the bottom and aromatics on the rack to infuse flavors with no risk of boil overs.
Steamer basket inserts fit inside saucepans on the stovetop.
Materials like stainless steel or silicone provide durable options that are also dishwasher safe for easy cleanup.
Banana leaves, foil, or parchment paper can further contain ingredients before placing in steamer baskets.
While modern appliances streamline preparation, some drawbacks exist as well.
Certain models require more counter space than a collapsible bamboo steamed.
Electric units also demand regular descaling and may break down after heavy use.
If the steaming function stops working, an entire meal could be lost.
Upfront costs also tend to be higher than basic steamers.
In summary, various steaming equipment offers pros and cons depending on individual needs.
Exploring diverse options beyond bamboo may better suit kitchen sizes and lifestyles while still capturing all the benefits of this gentle cooking method.
With practice, any tool can become an asset for delivering nourishing and satisfying homemade meals.
Steaming without Specialized Equipment: Creative Alternatives
While steamers and rice cookers simplify cooking rice and vegetables, these pieces of equipment are not always necessary if versatility and budget call for alternative options.
Through the years, resourceful home chefs have devised ingenious makeshift methods using common kitchen tools.
For example, a large pot with solid metal lid can function similarly to a bamboo steamer by holding a metal colander or mesh rack above simmering cooking water.
Layering prepared pork or other foods on top then sealing with the cover allows gentle steaming.
Rice cooker lids on their own also work in a pinch laid directly on a sturdy bamboo lid after adding an inch of boiling water below.
The material effectively traps vaporizing steam indoors like dedicated steamer lids while ingredients sit above in their usual containers.
For single servings, a heatproof bowl covered tightly with plastic wrap or foil and set within a slow boil pot circulates moist air to slowly cook delicate foods like fish or eggs.
This closed environment prevents splattering too.
With creativity, most homes already contain versatile multi-tools suitable for simple steaming anytime specialized appliances are unavailable.
These alternative methods uphold steaming’stouted health benefits using equipment many cooks already have on hand.
Selecting the Right Foods for Traditional and Modern Steaming
Certain foods naturally shine and retain maximum nutrients when steamed either traditionally or using contemporary methods.
Tender morsels like fish, shrimp, and poultry provide delicate textures enhanced with subtle steaming flavors.
Rice varieties, quinoa, and other grains transform fluffy and light steamed above simmering liquid.
Vegetables like bok choy, broccoli, green beans, and leafy greens maintain bright colors and crunchiness through steaming without washing away vitamins.
Firm potatoes, winter squashes, and root vegetables become meltingly soft inside while keeping their shape.
Steamed edamame pods snap open easily to reveal sweet soybean orbs.
Items containing natural juices like tomatoes, berries, plums and citrus create tangy sauces when placed cut-side up within the steamer basket.
Herbs, spices, and liquids mingling below season from within.
For health-conscious home chefs, steaming offers one of the simplest approaches joining Asian and Western cooking with minimal added fats or oils.
With practice matching key ingredients to steam cooking techniques, nourishing and satisfying low-calorie meals become effortless to enjoy.
Steaming’s prominence in various world cuisines underscores how it optimizes natural flavors in many delicious dishes.
A Culinary Journey: Historical and Cultural Aspects of Steaming
Steaming has been an integral cooking method used across various cultures for over two thousand years.
Northeast Asian societies artfully steamed seafood, grains, and vegetables using only water’s natural ability to gently heat food without drying it out.
In China specifically, steaming rose as a primary household technique for creating intricate dishes.
Techniques such as stacking tiered bamboo baskets and utilizing two-tiered hanging inserts expanded steaming possibilities.
Through this moist heat cooking style, meats, seafood, and tender vegetables absorbed rich, nuanced flavors.
Elsewhere in Asia, steaming rice and curries took hold as fundamental parts of Indian and Southeast Asian food traditions.
Steamed Asian dumplings and American-style buns also became tied to specific historic interactions as global trade routes grew.
Steaming eventually spread to the Mediterranean during the Roman Empire era.
Local ingredients influenced adaptations, creating beloved dishes like Spanish paella and Italian risotto prepared in a covered pan as it simmered above liquid.
These time-honored traditions endure central roles in their modern cuisines today.
Steaming’s continued worldwide popularity stems from how it enhances flavors and preserves nutrients in a natural manner that bridges many cultural boundaries.
Its lengthy history sheds light on culinary cross-pollination and humanity’s ongoing pursuit of innovative cooking methods for nourishing ourselves.
Step-by-Step Guide: How to Stovetop Steam and Use Modern Steamers
Basic stovetop steaming only requires a pot of boiling water, seasonings, and a bamboo basket.
Add an inch of water and flavorings to the pot.
Then arrange prepared chicken breasts, firm tofu, broccoli, and carrots on the perforated rack above.
Cover tightly and simmer 10-15 minutes until tender but still holding shape.
Counterpart electric steamers involve minimal preparation.
Select a steamer basket insert.
Add covered food and the appropriate amount of water according to manufacturer instructions.
Set the timer and temperature before allowing the steamer to operate unattended until signaling is complete.
Compartment steaming in some models enables cooking smaller portions separately for optimal texture and flavor profile control.
Oven steaming merely calls for pouring water into a baking dish on the bottom rack before arranging food in a rack above or sealed inside aluminum foil pockets on another rack.
Set temperature to 325°F and bake, checking occasional for desired doneness.
With practice and a bit of innovation, various steaming techniques unlock enticing low-fat main dishes perfect for suiting any schedule or cooking proficiency level.
In summary, steaming is a healthy, easy way to enjoy nutritional meals without sacrificing taste.
It helps prevent those important vitamins and minerals from washing away like they can with boiling.
Plus, steaming traps the natural juices inside so foods stay tender and tasty.
Now that you know the secrets, you’ve got no excuse not to get your steam on!
Be sure to share what you’ve learned with friends and family too so they can discover just how simple it is to eat better.
Don’t forget to also check out my other articles for more kitchen hints that will have you cookin’ like a pro.
Whether you’re boiling or steaming, happy and healthy eating to you! Keep those comments coming too – I’d love to hear about your steaming success stories!
I am a skilled chef assistant with a passion for Asian cuisine, I have honed my craft through formal training at At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy and years of experience in the culinary industry. I have extensive knowledge of cooking techniques and herbs and spices, with a particular focus on traditional Chinese dishes. I’m also an author of the book “Delicious Keto Low Carb Chinese Food for Busy Moms and Fitness Enthusiasts” which is sold on Amazon. On my blog, bowlakechinese.com, I share my expertise in Asian cuisine and provide tips and recipes for those interested in low carb Chinese cuisine.