A Guide to Bamboo Steamers
Discover the delicious and healthy art of steaming
The bamboo steamer is a piece of kitchen equipment usually purchased for that one dish, that one time. But it shouldn’t be. In fact, when it comes to cooking up deliciously healthy dishes in a flash, it’s exactly what you need. A simple to use, effortless to clean, and easy to love culinary essential that we think deserves pride of place in your cupboard.
In this helpful hint-packed guide, we’re going to unlock the secrets of the bamboo steamer and learn just how you can use it to enhance the flavours of some of the best meals. First, let’s find out how it came to be.
What’s everyone steaming about?
Famed for its stackable woven basket form and moisture locking domed lid, the bamboo steamer is a simple, but powerful, piece of cookware that will totally transform any bad tastes left in your mouth about steaming.
According to archaeological findings, steaming is an ancient Asian cooking method. (One of the oldest in history, actually). While the original bamboo steamers of 5000 years ago may have looked a lot different, the art of cooking in this way is still much the same.
Bamboo steamers are loved all around the world for many rightful reasons — like the fact that they’re naturally anti-bacterial and are purse and planet-friendly. But the real joy in these baskets is their natural ability to weave wonderful flavour into food.
The basics of a bamboo steamer
The bamboo steamer has been around for some time — a staple piece of kitchen equipment woven with history. As time has evolved, it’s been reinvented in different forms in an attempt to meet the needs of modern-day diners.
They’re typically 10-inch wide and 6-inch high round interlocking baskets, made — as the name suggests — with woven straws of bamboo, cleverly designed to be stacked.
As a cooking method, steaming has gotten a bad reputation as the destroyer of texture — turning all it touches into a pile of plain tasting sogginess. However, due to its special woven structure, bamboo steamers allow the steam to gently pass through the different stacked layers, enhancing its contents with flavour rather than taking it away, and doing it all without a drop of oil or butter — clever, delicious, and healthy.
Bamboo steamer vs metal vs electric: what’s the difference?
The main benefit of the bamboo steamer (versus an electric or metal steamer) is that the moisture is absorbed into the bamboo, controlling the humidity and avoiding any unpleasant broiling.
They’re also more eco-friendly (and easier on the purse strings) than their counterparts, as they don’t require electricity and are made using natural fibres.
To top it off, the signature domed lid works smarter to control the temperature, allowing excess heat to pass through rather than sitting inside and causing food-damaging condensation.
Metal steamers are incredibly long-lasting, and can easily fit on the hob — perfect for whipping up midweek veggies and proteins in a flash, confident that it will stand up to the heat each and every time.
The downsides to metal steamers? They’re not always the cheapest, and they aren’t environmentally friendly by nature — of course, if you take care of it, it will last which saves mounting products up at landfill sites.
With electric steamers, they have the same benefits previously mentioned for metal steamers but their biggest advantage is convenience given their ability to automatically switch off and keep the food warm once it’s cooked.
The downside of these part plastic, part metal towers is that they have a habit of turning the crunchy into the mushy — the ultimate enemy of steaming.
How to use a bamboo steamer
Start by filling a wide, shallow pan or wok with an inch or so of water, and bring it to a gentle simmer. When the water is ready, pop your bamboo steamer on top so it’s nestling on the sides or resting on top — try to avoid the base basket touching the water.
Next, place your vegetables and/or proteins into the different layers (with whatever takes longest to cook closest to the bottom), and let the magic steam do its work.
You’ll need to stagger adding your ingredients to ensure they all finish cooking at the same time. So while a chicken breast usually takes 25-30 minutes to cook, broccoli florist will only take five minutes. So prepare ahead, and set a timer.
To get the most out of your bamboo steamer, here are some of our favourite tips.
TIP 1: If you’re steaming through multiple baskets, put the food that takes the longest to cook in the bottom tray — closest to the heat.
TIP 2: To ensure even cooking when steaming vegetables with stems (like broccoli or asparagus), point the firmest end towards the middle of the steamer.
TIP 3: When cooking marinated meats or fish lay a piece of parchment or greaseproof paper underneath to avoid the scent directly infusing into the wood.
TIP 4: For extra flavour, swap the water in your pan for broth or stock and layer fresh herbs between food.
TIP 5: Space out the contents of each basket to ensure your foods cook evenly — if it’s overcrowded, spread it over other layers.
TIP 6: You just have to trust that steam plus convection will cook your food with no outside assistance from you, so avoid temptation and leave that lid closed.
How to use a bamboo steamer without a wok
If you don’t have a wok, don’t worry! You can still get simply delicious bamboo steamed food from other pans too. Find a pan or pot that is just smaller than the size of your steamer, half fill it with water and bring to a rolling boil. Then place the bamboo steamer on top and you’re all set up to steam.
Hot tip: if your bamboo steamer overhangs your pot or pan considerably, gently wet the steamer before placing it over the top — this will avoid any creeping flames from the hob catching and burning the steamer.
How to care for of your bamboo steamer
The beauty of the bamboo steamer (next to its other wonderful qualities) is that it is super simple to clean. In fact, the real trick to making it last for a long time is more about the drying. So, once you have cleaned your steamer with a sponge and mild soap and have thoroughly rinsed it out, leave it to air dry for a couple of days before storing it away.
Bamboo is extremely absorbent, so even when you think it might be dry, it may still be retaining some moisture, and that could develop any unpleasant mildew while resting in your cupboard.