Steaming is an efficient and highly
effective way to prepare naturally tender foods. It is unfortunate that,
to many minds, steaming has become synonymous with the bland foods
suggested by diet plans for patients on a low-fat, low-cholesterol, and
low-sodium regime. It is true that this technique has many properties that
make it an admirable choice for those concerned with healthful cooking
methods. That does not mean that steamed foods are, or need to be,
tasteless and uninteresting.
Foods that are steamed include such standard
offerings as steamed lean fish, vegetables, poultry breasts, and some
fruits. It also includes more exotic and unusual fare such as tameles or
dim sum. The success or failure of any steamed food rests upon the
same criteria as that applied to sauteed or roasted foods. Is the dish
moist, flavorful, appealing from both a visual and textural stance? Are
the flavors fully developed? Have the accompanying seasonings, garnishes,
and sauces been selected with care and prepared with the same attention to
detail as the main item?
Steamed foods are cooked by surrounding them
with a vapor bath in a closed cooking vessel. Tiered aluminum or bamboo
steamers, small inserts, couscoussieres, gas or electric pressure or
convection steamers can all be used to steam foods. The food should not
come into direct contact with the liquid used to create the steam, and the
container should stay closed until the food is properly cooked.
To add more interest to steamed foods, they
may be stuffed, wrapped in aromatic leaves, marinated, or sauced. There is
no excuse for serving uninteresting steamed vegetables, when the judicious
application of some simple seasonings would make all the difference.
Overcooking foods in a steamer is a common
problem. Once foods have gone from properly cooked to overdone, they
become as dry and uninteresting as a roast that was left untended for too
long. Properly steamed foods do not generally lose much of their original
volume, and they are exceptionally plump, moist and tender. Just as a
roast will continue to cook even after it is removed from the oven, so
will steamed fish or poultry after they come out of the steamer. This
makes timing of great importance.