As people become more health conscious, gone are the days filled with tons of fried and greasy foods. While many people are not cutting those types of foods completely out of their diets, they are looking for healthier ways of preparing meals at home, especially ways that will produce the least amount of grease.

Healthy Cooking Methods in Asian Cuisine

Asian cuisine seems to embody traditional and healthy cooking techniques, including methods such as steaming, boiling, and stewing.

streamed food

Steaming is definitely one of the more popular cooking methods, especially in regions like Taiwan. Local Taiwanese steam many types of food, even some desserts. Cooking methods such as steaming, boiling and stewing often negate the need for an oven and many traditional Chinese households lack conventional baking ovens entirely.

Benefits of Steaming Food

In addition to the health benefits, there is a belief that steaming allows one to truly appreciate and experience the delicate flavors found in the dish.
There are other reasons steaming is popular in traditional Asian cuisine, some of which include:
  • Food ingredients are usually seasoned well and prepared in minimal steps prior to steaming. Rather than enhancing the food with additional spices when sauteing or deep frying, the food is cooked with the direct heat of the steam. The fresher the ingredients, the fresher the meal will taste. This is typically the reason live seafood is always served steamed in restaurants.
  • Since the food does not come into direct contact with a lot of water, as with boiling and blanching, no vital nutrients are lost in the cooking process.
  • Foods that are steamed retain their natural flavors, as they are seared in the cooking process.
streamed food

How to Ensure Proper Steaming of Foods

One of the most important elements is to ensure continuous ample heat. If there is not enough heat, the dish will not steam properly, sometimes resulting in undercooked food; or if left too long, the dish could become rubbery and lose its flavor.

Here are several helpful tips to remember when steaming foods:
  • Wait for the water to boil, especially with seafood and other meats. Without ample steam from the start, the meat will lose its suppleness and tenderness.
  • Add as much water to the steamer as possible, to ensure maximum steam. As the water begins to boil, turn down the heat a little.
  • If the steamer does not have enough water, top off with hot water to keep the steam going.
  • Watch the level of water to ensure it is not too much. Too much water can spill over and submerge the food as the steamer begins to boil.
  • Do not lift the cover too often as cold water can enter the steamer, causing water droplets to form and drip onto the food.

Equipment Needed to Properly Steam Food

To properly steam food, it is important to have appropriate equipment. Although a baking oven can be substituted for some of the traditional equipment, steaming in a western style oven or microwave are the least recommended methods. Appliaance manufacturers have even taken note and recognize the rise in popularity of steaming food. Today, some manufacturers now offer large steamer ovens in their product lineups.

Some essential elements needed to enjoy steaming food at home include one or more of the following:
  • Bamboo steam basket - cherished for its ability to absorb moisture preventing condensed steam from dripping onto the food. Be sure to thoroughly wash and dry the basket, otherwise mold can develop if stored when not completely dry.
  • Steamer - Typical Western steamers are two-tier pots with a steamer basket that fits in the top.
  • Chinese Wok - Ensure the wok has a tall cover to allow more space in the wok. Add a steamer rack or perforated tray and this is one of the most efficient ways to steam food.
  • Microwave Oven - Although this will certainly work as a method of steaming food, it is one of the least recommended ways. Microwaves absorb the vapors rather than creating a nice steam, causing the food to lose its water content. If steaming with a microwave, be sure to add extra water to the steamer.
  • Baking Oven - As with the microwave, water must be added to the baking tray to ensure the production of vapors. Although it is not entirely the same as traditional steaming, utilizing a baking oven does render the baked food more tender and aromatic.
When steaming items like Chinese dim sum, definitely avoid the use of a microwave or regular oven. These tend to dry out the dumpling skins and depending on the dough type, prevent the buns or dumplings from achieving the intended fluffy texture.

Steaming has increased in popularity during recent years, and can now also be seen as a preferred cooking method in many other cultures. A small investment into steaming equipment can reap great benefits in not only preparing Asian cuisine at home, but for many other types of foods as well.