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Steaming

Steaming is a quick way to cook, without the need for oil and it keeps food moist and flavoursome.

Built in steamers are becoming popular in domestic kitchens, in some cases replacing microwave ovens. But you don’t need to spend a lot of money to be able to steam food at home. A bamboo steamer ($20-$30 from Asian grocery stores) that fits snugly just inside a wok or large saucepan is all you need, and you can even stack 2 or 3 steamers on top of each other to cater for a crowd. Fill the wok or saucepan with enough water to come just below the base of the steamer once it starts simmering, the simmering liquid should not touch the steamer.

Tips for Successful Steaming:

  • For added flavour, marinate before steaming, then reduce marinade over a medium heat to serve as a sauce.
  • If the food is likely to release liquid, place in a deep plate inside the steamer to catch any juices, which can then be poured over the steamed food as a sauce.
  • Alternatively, placing food on parchment, baking paper or banana leaves makes it easier to lift in and out of the steamer.
  • A lining of some sort also prevents small pieces of food from falling through the slats of the steamer.
  • Leave 2.5cm between the lining and the sides of the steamer, and make a few cuts in baking paper or leaves to allow steam to circulate.
  • Wrap individual parcels of food with different flavourings to suit different tastes (e.g. with or without chilli).
  • Make sure the lid and steamer are firmly in place so that steam doesn’t escape.
  • Steam over medium heat, keeping the water at a rapid simmer. To be alerted to a low water level, place 2 or 3 marbles or coins in the base of the steamer; the gentle knocking sound they make in boiling water will stop when the water level drops too low.
  • Remove the steamer from above the simmering liquid before removing the food to avoid steam burns.
  • Food that is steamed will be flavourful and succulent, but pale, so serve with a sauce or garnish to add colour.

* adapted from Steaming by Brigid Treloar (Lansdowne) RRP $9.95

Cooking Times:

Steaming time is dictated more by the thickness of the fish than its weight, and steaming cooks surprisingly quickly, so check at the minimum cooking time, then cook a little longer if necessary. Insert a fork into the thickest part of the fish, if it’s opaque throughout and flakes easily, it's cooked; and remember that sashimi-grade seafood can be served rare in the centre. If the seafood is stuffed, wrapped, or cooked in a two-level steamer, allow extra cooking time and rotate the steamers halfway through for even cooking. Cooking time can be shortened if the food is cut into small pieces, make sure the pieces are roughly the same size for even cooking. Time cooking from the moment the food is placed in the steamer over already simmering water and covered.

As a rough guide:

  • Whole fish 10-15 minutes per 500g
  • Fish fillets 5-8 minutes
  • Fish cutlets 8-12 minutes
  • Mussels 3-6 minutes
  • Prawns 3-6 minutes
  • Scallops 2-3 minutes
  • Balmain & Moreton Bay Bugs 8-12 minutes
  • Rock lobsters 12-15 minutes
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