How to use a Bamboo Steamer

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It is a known fact that steaming is a healthier way to cook many of your favorite meats and vegetables. There are several appliance-based steamers on the market to choose from, but what if you are looking for something more natural and simpler to use?

Learning how to use a bamboo steamer is easier than you would think. There are simple steps to use when preparing, cooking, and cleaning it.

What is a Bamboo Steamer?

With healthy eating on the rise, many people have switched their cooking routines to healthier methods. You may even have a steamer tucked away in your cupboard. If so, why should you entertain the thought of a bamboo steamer?

Chicken bao cooked in a bamboo steamer

Bamboo steamers are non-metal round baskets that stack on top of one another. They are made entirely out of bamboo, which is a strong and natural material. There are some bamboo steamers on the market which have metal rings in them for design or to appeal to some buyers, but the metal is not necessary.

When you cook in metal steamers, you may notice an odd and very subtle taste. That is because metal steamers can have a reaction that releases a small and non-toxic amount of their composition into the food. The reaction is a mildly odd taste. With bamboo steamers, it is all-natural wood that has no reactive issues.

The wooden bamboo body is what sets this steamer apart from the others. It is also a non-electric steamer. To cook with a bamboo steamer, you simply place it in a pan of lightly boiling water.

The trapped steam will filter up through the two rack levels and stay inside, circulating under the lid. This is how the bamboo steamer will gently cook your food. It is great for meats, rice, dumplings, and vegetables.

With the dual-layer you can cook multiple things separately, or opt to use just one layer for your dinner. Many Asian cookbooks will reference bamboo steamers and how to use them for various recipes.

How to use a Bamboo Steamer

When you are learning how to use a bamboo steamer, there are a few things to keep in mind to extend the life of your steamer.

To begin cooking with a bamboo steamer, choose a large and deep skillet. Most professional cooks opt to use a wok because of its deep and circular body.

The main things you need to make a pan compatible is that it needs to be able to hold a few inches of water. The bamboo steamer needs to be able to sit in the pan without the sides touching each other. This is because the sides of the pan will leave burn marks on the side of your bamboo steamer. These can discolor and damage it.

Chef Helen Chen created a steel rim that works with bamboo steamers. This revolutionary rim allows you to set the bamboo steamer over a pot of water. It removes any concerns of making sure the steamer fits in a pan and gives a deeper water reservoir to the cooking process.

Once you have the right pot, fill it with water. If you are using a wok or a deep skillet, put a few inches of water in it. You want enough to start to make steam. However, you do not want the water to touch the bottom rack in your bamboo steamer.

Go ahead and turn the stove on to start warming up your water. You don’t want a rapid boil. Instead, turn your burner on medium heat to start warming it up while you begin to prep the bamboo steamer.

For the bamboo steamer, you never want to just lay food on it. Most of the time, food will release juices or can stick to the bamboo rack. This is harmful because it can be difficult to clean, and the juices will seep into the bamboo. While you can scrub off messes, you cannot remove juices from the rack.

To easily avoid all the trouble from food sticking, use parchment paper. You can purchase precut and punched parchment paper. You can also trim up your own or fold the corners in. Extra parchment paper will not affect the food.

When you have put down the parchment paper and loaded in your food, place the baskets together and set the lid on top. Then, place the bamboo steamer in the gently boiling water. The final thing to do is set your timer and wait.

Check the water to make sure that it does not all evaporate before time is out, and add more if needed.

Chinese style cooking using a bamboo steamer

Cleaning and maintenance on your Bamboo Steamers

When you are finished with your steamer, it will be very hot. Use tongs or oven mitts to take it apart and lift out the food. Let the bamboo steamer cool on the counter or place it in the sink.

After you have enjoyed your meal and the steamer has cooled, wipe it down with a warm, wet cloth. If there is any residue or you want to clean it a little better, there are a few different ways you can clean it.

You can fill a large pot and soak it in boiling water. Turn the stove off and let it sit overnight. Do not add any soap or detergent to the soaking. Soaking the bamboo steamer will loosen any residue and make it easy to wipe off.

If you must use soap to clean it, choose a very mild detergent and use as little as possible. Bamboo is very porous and will absorb the dish soap.

If you cook with fish and it leaves a fishy smell on the steamer, use a sliced lemon. Rub the lemon gently across the racks and around the inside to freshen the smell.

You can also use a black tea bag. Soak the tea bag for a few minutes and then lightly rub it around the inside. Make sure you don’t rub too hard because it will rip the teabag and spill the contents.

Do not use a scouring pad or steel wool on your bamboo steamer. This will cause the bamboo to be damaged and weakened. It could possibly break. You can use a nylon sponge to lightly scrub if you need to.

What Cookware Do You Actually Need?

Start Steaming

Now that you know how to use a bamboo steamer, you can start to eat healthier and cleaner without having to deal with complicated appliances.

Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.

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