The Basics of Steaming Food in a Wok for Fresh Taste Every Time

Here are some basic tips for steaming food in a wok, for results that taste fresh every time.

Steaming Basics
Prop the dish on metal lids so that the steam circulates freelyaround the dish.

1. Using a wok, it's important to add the proper amount of water. If there's too much water, it may soak the food during steaming. However, if there's too little, it may boil dry. When you add the water, leave one inch between the bottom of the steamer rack and the surface of the water. Verify the water level by placing the steamer rack inside the wok. After you have the water level set, bring the water to boiling over high heat.

2. When you're using a wire steamer rack, the wires should be close enough together so that food doesn't slip through the openings. If the portions you're steaming are too small, try covering the steamer rack with aluminum foil, 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's heatproof and is at least one inch smaller than the diameter of the steamer. If the dish covers all of the openings, place three or four metal jar lids on top of the rack, then place your dish atop the jar lids. This will help prop the dish up enough so that 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 onto it during steaming.

6. When you place the lid on the wok, it should fit tightly, so very little steam escapes. Check the fit of the lid before you start. If the food you're going to steam doesn't allow the lid to fit snugly, look for another lid with a better fit. The lid needs to have a dome shape, so the water doesn't condense and drip onto the food.

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

8. Any time you remove the lid, do so carefully. To avoid burning yourself, tilt the lid so the steam rises away from you.

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. The rack fits about halfway down, 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 layer of food at a time. If they're stacked, use the steamer lid in place of the wok lid . If you don't have a steamer rack, you 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 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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