The use of a steamer when cooking is a healthy way to prepare fish, chicken and vegetables. A steamer works by cooking the food over boiling water, which allows the cook to create dishes without any additional fat and retain the nutrients in the food. Steamers can be made of aluminum, stainless steel or bamboo. May sauce pans and stockpots have a steamer basket included with the pan and lid. Bamboo steamers can have two or more trays that can be stacked and fit over a wok for steaming.
Cooking Fish by Steam
Filleted fish is the easiest to cook by the steaming method. Season the fish and lay in a single layer in the steaming basket. Place the basket over boiling water, making sure the water level is lower than the bottom of the basket. A one-inch thick fish fillet will steam cook in approximately 10 minutes. Thinner fillets will take less time. Fish is done when it can be flaked with a fork.
To shorten cooking times, chicken should be deboned before steaming. Boneless chicken breasts are well suited for steaming. Season the chicken, and place in the steaming basket. Steam for 10 to 25 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat. Use a meat thermometer in the thickest portion of the meat to determine doneness; the thermometer should read 165 degree Fahrenheit. Small Cornish hens can also be split in half and steamed; like all poultry, the hens are cooked at 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Vegetables should be sorted by cooking times in a steamer. Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and green beans will be crisp tender in approximately five minutes. Carrots, cabbage and corn might take as much as eight minutes to cook. Peas take the shortest cooking time at two minutes, but Brussels sprouts take the longest at 10 minutes. Adjust cooking times to suit your own tastes, either shorter or longer, but take care not to overcook as the vegetables can easily become mushy.
Bamboo steamers have trays that can be stacked in order to cook several different foods at once. Most bamboo steamers also come with dividers that different types of foods can be separated on the same tray. When using more than one bamboo steamer tray, cook the food that takes the longest on the bottom tray, and add the additional trays at the appropriate time. An example would be fish would be cooked on the bottom tray, and green beans or asparagus would be added five minutes before the fish is done.
References and ResourcesFocus on Chicken, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA
Cooking Tips for Fish: Basic Pointers, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute
Healthy Eating Gathers Steam, by SeAnne Safaii-Fabiano, University of Idaho
Steaming Times for Vegetables