Steaming Basics

Make fresh-tasting foods every time.


Enlarge Image Prop the dish on metal lids so that the steam circulates freelyaround the dish.

1. It is important to have the proper amount of water in your wok or Dutch oven. If there's too much water, it may splatter and soak the food during steaming. However, if there's too little water, the wok may boil dry during the steaming process. When you add the water to the wok, make sure to leave 1 inch between the bottom of the steamer rack and the water. Verify the water level by placing the steamer rack in the wok. After you have the water level set, bring the water to boiling over high heat.

2. When using a wire steamer rack, make sure the wires are close enough together so the food does not slip through the openings. If the food is too small, try covering the steamer rack with aluminum foil and then punching small holes through it. Or, use a round wire cooling rack instead of a steamer rack.

3. Once the water is boiling, arrange the food on the steamer rack as directed in the recipe.

4. When a recipe requires a dish in addition to the steamer rack, choose one that is heatproof and is at least 1 inch smaller than the diameter of the steamer rack. If the dish covers all of the openings, place three or four metal jar lids on top of the steamer rack. Then place your dish atop the jar lids. This will help prop the dish up enough so the steam can flow underneath and circulate freely around the dish.

5. Sometimes recipes call for foods to be covered with foil. The foil protects the food from any steam that may condense and drip on the food during steaming.

6. When you place the lid on the wok, make sure it fits tightly so very little steam escapes. Check the fit of the lid before you start. If the food you are going to cook is too large for the lid to fit snugly, look for another lid with a better fit. Make sure the lid has a dome shape so the water doesn't condense and drip on the food.

7. Check the water under the steamer rack occasionally during steaming to make sure it hasn't boiled away. Add more boiling water as necessary.

8. Any time you remove the lid from a steaming wok, do so carefully. To avoid burning yourself, be sure to tilt the lid so the steam rises away from you.

Enlarge Image Make sure the wires in a steamer rack are close enough, so that food does not slip through.
  • A wok, with its sloping sides, is a perfect pan for steaming. Since the sides are sloped, the rack fits about halfway down inside, leaving enough room for the water below. If you don't have a wok, you can improvise with a Dutch oven. Place three or four inverted custard cups in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Then place any kind of steamer rack on top.
  • Steamer racks are available in a variety of styles. The ones typically packaged with woks are round wire racks. If your wok didn't come with a steamer rack, you may purchase one separately. Racks are available in perforated metal, bamboo, and aluminum. The bamboo and aluminum racks can be used alone or stacked to cook more than one batch of food at a time. If they're stacked, use the steamer lid in place of the lid from the wok. If you don't have a steamer rack you probably can make do with something you already have in your kitchen. For instance, a round wire cooling rack or a small metal colander make great replacements.
  • A tight-fitting dome-shaped lid is essential for steaming. If the wok lid doesn't fit tightly, look through your regular cookware for a lid that may fit your wok. A lid from a 10- or 12-inch skillet or a Dutch oven may fit just inside the rim of the wok. The dome shape is important because it allows condensation to run down the sides of the lid, rather than dripping on the food you are steaming.
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