The steaming technique is one of the oldest cooking methods. It dates back to the Paleolithic, and it can be used to cook a variety of foods, although nowadays it is most commonly used for cooking vegetables.
It is interesting to note that when steaming, you are actually cooking at temperatures higher than when stewing, braising or poaching. Steaming, which is high temperature water turning into steam, occurs at 212 Fahrenheit or 100 Celsius, however this is a much gentler cooking method, as it does not create bubbles or agitation along the process.
Steaming is great for cooking seafood and other delicate items. Also, it’s a technique that helps food retain a lot more nutrients, plus it cooks foods relatively fast.
How you cook with steam
If you’re familiar with pressure cookers, you know these work on the principle of steam pressure.
Pressure cookers are now more prevalent in the Western world, although people tend to distinguish between pressure cooking and cooking with steam in that using a pressure cooker is different to using steam because you add pressure to the cooking process. Very much so.
Adding pressure to steam increases the natural temperature of 212° F at higher degrees depending on the level of pressure, so the higher the pressure is, the hotter the steam.
You can however steam using simply a pot and a steamer basket, a traditional method widely used throughout China, India and countries in North Africa.
Cooking with a pressure cooker
Using a pressure cooker gives you a double advantage. You can both steam your food and pressure steam your food.
The pressure cooker is also more advantageous in terms of the ingredients you can cook, a much wider variety than if you were to steam simply using a pot and steamer basket.
You can also cook soups, meats, rice with a pressure cooker, and get tremendous health benefits that would otherwise be lost if you boiled the food.
And you save a lot of time too. Pressure cookers cook food much faster than steam the traditional way.
Cooking with steam traditionally
This is done bringing water to a boil, placing a basket over the pot and sealing in the steam with a lid. The food cooks in the steam circulating through the pot.
Years ago, before grilling and roasting in the oven became available, people used steaming to cook vegetables. It wasn’t always done the proper way and often times, people would find their veggies soggy or bland.
It is necessary when steaming to fill the pot with only a small amount of liquid and that the basket doesn’t touch the water, because this creates excessive moisture and could have vegetables turning soggy. Simmering for too long can have this effect also.
When steaming fish and seafood, you can prepare a broth or stock with aromatic herbs and steam the food in flavorful steam. Fish is one of the best ingredients to steam for healthier dishes.