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What is Steam Cooking?

What is Steam Cooking? 

You are probably used to baking in the oven, frying on the stove, or if you’re lucky, using the grill on your patio. But if you've never cooked with steam before, the idea can be kind of strange. 

These all use high heat above 300 degrees, so how is 200-something degree steam going to cook anything all the way? Won’t it be raw in the middle? Buckle in for a little history lesson and I’ll tell you all about it.

Chinese people have been using steam for thousands of years to cook a variety of meats, vegetables, and grains. In traditional Chinese steaming, food is placed in woven bamboo baskets that are then placed over a pot of water that is heated until boiling to produce steam. Steam rises up between the woven bamboo, cooking each layer of food as it rises. The result is food that is tender, juicy, and not charred from high heat cooking (we’ve all burnt bacon on the stove or a hamburger on the grill, right?) 

 

As another example, the Aurignacian people of France were steam cooking their food more than 30,000 years ago! 

Instead of woven bamboo baskets, these early Europeans would wrap their food in wet leaves and place the wrapped packages over hot coals or on heated rocks to steam cook their food. 

For us modern folk, the most common way of steam cooking is to use a steamer basket. Similar to the Chinese, this modern method uses a mesh basket placed inside a large pot of boiling on the stovetop. The water level is an inch or two below the mesh basket so food can be placed on top without boiling in the pot of water. It’s most commonly used to steam seafood or to make tamales. 

The steamer basket is a practical solution, but it can require a long time to cook, constant monitoring of the water level, and you have to store this huge pot when it is not in use. 

 

If only there was an easier way...