About bamboo steamers
What is a bamboo steamer?
If you’ve ever been to a Chinese dim sum restaurant, you’ll know exactly what we’re referring to: those straw-colored round baskets, darkened with varying levels of absorbed moisture stacked precariously one atop the other in carts filled with hot water. Most of all, you’ll need no convincing as to why this kitchen tool has enjoyed over 5,000 years of popularity without much evolution. To this day, they’re made with skinned bamboo that’s softened into pliability then shaped into a circle and held permanently in place with bamboo nails or lashings. The bases are slatted to allow steam to rise and cook the food, the containers nestling into each other until you reach the top level — however high you choose to make it — where a dome-shaped, tightly woven lid seals the vapor in.
Why you should use a bamboo steamer
Although fast-cooking metal steamers are commonly available, many Asian cooks still choose the old-fashioned models due to their ability to absorb moisture — which reduces the problem of condensation dripping down and making your dish soggy — and to avoid imparting any metallic taste or overcooking due to higher heat retention. And while rice cookers also provide a steam function, the ability to stack bamboo steamers and effortlessly batch cook also keep folks loyal to the old ways, even if these baskets don’t last as long. However, they’re environmentally friendly, highly sustainable, and inexpensive, reducing the footprint of their replacement on the earth and your wallet.
How to use a bamboo steamer
To use a bamboo steamer, you don’t need much: just something to line it with and cookware large enough to accommodate it and a couple of inches of water with enough clearance that boiling bubbles won’t touch the base. Any wide, deep pan or pot will do, but a wok is best if you have one—the curve of its bowl will hug the steamer and keep the bottom from scorching, as is more likely in a pot of pan due to the base’s prolonged direct contact with it. As for linings, you can buy specially made perforated liners cut to typical bamboo steamer sizes; parchment, wax, or baking paper; or cabbage, lettuce, lotus, banana, or pandan leaves, the latter three of which may also impart their flavors.