How to CookChinese

Learn to Use a Bamboo Steamer & Never Look Back

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True, gentle steaming might not sound as exciting as a sizzling pan. It requires extra tools, extra patience, and can seem extra boring (no flashy sautés in oil or Maillard reaction). But quiet steaming actually condenses the flavors of ingredients, almost magically making foods taste even more like themselves.

Put the Sizzling Pan Aside: Why You Should Embrace Quieter Cooking Methods
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Put the Sizzling Pan Aside: Why You Should Embrace Quieter Cooking Methods

While we might still be discovering the secrets of steaming, award-winning food journalist and cook Hsiao-Ching Chou explains in her new book, Chinese Soul Food, that Chinese chefs have long practiced the art.

“The moist-heat cooking transforms yeasted doughs into airy buns, seafoods into intensified versions of themselves, meats into tender morsels of savoriness, and so on,” she writes.

Bamboo steamers are the most traditional Chinese style, and because they can be a little intimidating to use at first, Chou describes how to set one up:

  • Fill a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven (or equivalent pan) with 3 quarts of water, then bring the water to a boil over high heat.
  • Line the steamer basket with round, perforated parchment steamer liners and put the food in the basket. Place an 11-inch steaming ring on the rim of the Dutch oven and set the steamer basket and lid on the ring.
  • Steam over high heat for the time directed, checking the water level occasionally to make sure the pot doesn’t dry up.

Want to give it a try? Here are some of our favorite recipes to steam in bamboo:

Mushi-Gyoza (Steamed Gyoza)

Mushi-Gyoza (Steamed Gyoza) by ourlastsupper

Steamed Fish with Ginger & Scallions

Steamed Fish with Ginger & Scallions by Sara Jenkins

Shrimp Soup Dumplings

Shrimp Soup Dumplings by Kenny Lao

Momofuku's Pork Buns

Momofuku's Pork Buns by Merrill Stubbs

Sake-Steamed Mandarin Fish

Sake-Steamed Mandarin Fish by meganvt01

Vegetable Steamed Buns 素菜包

Vegetable Steamed Buns 素菜包 by Cindy

Do you use a bamboo steamer? What are your favorite recipes to cook with moist heat?

Tags: Steam, Tips & Techniques, Books