Steaming gently cooks food so that it retains its moisture, natural flavor, and nutrients. It’s a popular method for cooking a variety of foods, including vegetables, meats and fish, dumplings, and
even eggs. That said, a steamer isn’t totally necessary to get the result you want; its main benefit is its ability to steam several foods at once, so if you're only steaming one ingredient, it's not necessary.
There are a few things to keep in mind regardless of which method you choose. First, never overstuff your steamer.,This will only result in food that ranges between overcooked and nearly raw. Second, only add your food when the water has begun to boil. Allowing your food to heat up with the water makes for longer cooking time and again, unevenly cooked food. With these basics covered, let’s explore the best ways to steam your food, sans steamer.
Mesh Sieve or Colander
Regardless the method, you want a heat-proof vessel that can conduct heat well for even cooking and that doesn’t shatter during the process. Together, these factors make using a mesh sieve or colander a natural choice. Simply ensure your pot has the right qualities: it should be large enough to nestle your sieve or colander inside of it, but deep enough so that the water doesn’t touch your vegetables. Using this method, you can readily steam up a dish of delicate fern fiddleheads.
Aluminum Foil, Two Ways
Aluminum foil is sort of magical, isn’t it? It’s flexible, reusable, and a great heat conductor. To steam with it, you can either shape it into a trivet or perforate it for a makeshift colander. If you're wondering what a trivet is, think of it as any object designed to buffer direct heat. In cooking, this could be the grate that lies on top of a gas stove.
To make an aluminum foil trivet, tear off 1 to 2 feet of aluminum foil and roll it into the shape of a donut. Place it into the pan on your stovetop, then once the water is boiling, add your vegetables to a heatproof bowl and place it onto the aluminum foil trivet—ta-da!
To create a colander from aluminum foil, measure and tear a portion that fits over the rim of your pan, providing enough space to both create a depression in your foil and to fold the edges over your pan. Then, double up on your layers so it’s sturdy, poke a few holes, and steam your veggies. Keep in mind that this method uses a lot of foil, so it may be best used only when in a pinch.
Those wire racks you use to cool your baked goods can double as an easy steamer when you need it—but just to be clear, we mean veggies in this case. This is a pretty straightforward method, only requiring the usual pan of boiling water (the wider the better) and a wire rack. As with all steaming methods, make sure you place a lid over your food so that the steam can thoroughly circulate. Of course, you won’t be able to get a perfect seal between your lid and pan, but that won’t compromise results. Try using this technique to wilt hearty greens for warm dishes, like this kale salad with blue cheese and walnuts.
The microwave cooks food fast, making it great for convenient cooking. What’s more, it’s a time-tested tool for steaming vegetables. For firm vegetables like potatoes, cut into even slices and place them into a microwave-safe bowl. Then, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to the bowl, top it with a microwave-safe lid, and cook for 6-8 minutes.
This method is especially well suited for dishes that are dressed or otherwise jazzed up, like a potato salad. For softer vegetables like green beans, you’ll follow the same steps but only cook them for 3 to 5 minutes. Regardless of what you’re steaming, you’ll want to pause your microwave regularly and check your food to ensure you don’t overcook it.
Blanching isn’t technically steaming, but it’s a great option if you’re cooking in a sparsely-equipped kitchen. To blanch your vegetables, start by finding a pot that is large enough to allow your vegetables to tumble freely while boiling. Then, fill the pot with heavily salted water (about 1 cup per gallon) and allow it to come to a rapid boil. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath to shock your vegetables (quickly stop them from cooking further) after they’re blanched. Most vegetables only need to cook 1 to 3 minutes before they’re ready to be removed and shocked, but if you don’t plan on shocking them, remove the veggies just a touch early since they will continue to cook while resting.