Amazing benefits of steaming

IN tomorrow’s second last episode for the season of Exotic Delights, we explore the endless possibilities of steaming for health.

Steaming is one of the healthiest ways to cook your food. Asian cultures have been using steamers since ancient times. This cooking method preserves the vitamins and minerals in food, and it’s ideal for preparing rice, seafood, fish, meat, and vegetables. Boiled or microwaved vegetables just don’t compare as they have little to no cancer-fighting properties left in them as their nutrition is dissolved or dissipated, however steamed vegetables maintain much of their nutritional value.

If you aren’t steaming foods at home, this episode will surely change your mind as we steam eggs, seafood and a wondrous recipe of steamed tandoori chicken. Steaming foods doesn’t always mean plain and unseasoned food like boring carrots or cabbage. With the clever use of herbs, spices and marinades, steamed recipes can be just as exotic as their fried or grilled cousins.

Benefits of steaming

If you are serious about your health and trying to shed body fat, adopting a healthy lifestyle starts at home and learning how to steam your food is an important technique to include in your dietary regime as steamed foods contain less oils.

Food steamers are a must-have piece of equipment in the modern kitchen whether it’s electric or a bamboo or aluminium pot steamer. They help foods maintain natural colour, flavour and nutrition, and require no oil to cook the ingredients. If you’re trying to lose weight, you need a steamer in your kitchen. Numerous studies have shown the health benefits of steaming as this thermal method of cooking protects and locks in most of the vitamins and minerals to ensure you are getting the maximum nutrition out of the produce. The steam also helps to cook the food more evenly and quicker as it swirls around the ingredients under pressure. From steamed pudding to rice, seafood, meats, vegetables and desserts, there are hundreds of recipes that you can try. All you need is a food steamer and a good pair of oven mitts to protect your hands from the hot steam.

Types of steaming

There are two types of steaming – high pressure and atmospheric. High pressure steaming requires special equipment like an electric rice cooker or a pressure cooker. In both of these cookers you would place ingredients into a liquid and steam it tightly covered.

High pressure steaming methods are perfect for tough meats and hard grains like rice as they use the high temperature and pressure to cook the food. With atmospheric steaming, the food is cooked by the action of the steam, so it’s important that the food is separated from the water. This can be done by using a special steamer or a steaming basket or rack over a saucepan of boiling water. Bamboo or aluminium steaming racks are available at any Chinese shop and usually consist of a bottom pan with one or two racks and a lid.

The specially-designed, aluminium steamers allow the steam to travel up through holes and then hit the top curved lid, allowing any condensation to fall back down the sides of the steamer, instead of on your food. Very ingenious. On the other hand, bamboo steaming racks and its lid absorb any condensation caused by the steam, preventing your food from getting wet. The secret to atmospheric steaming is to make sure you have enough water in the base for the duration of cooking time. I have seen many times, a steamer and its food catch fire on the stove because the water dries out and the steamer becomes a very hot, dry oven. With all steaming, remember that steam not only burns, it scalds. When you remove the lid from a steamer, be mindful of which way the steam releases, and make sure you are wearing gloves. Always open the lid away from you and your limbs, and never let children touch or play near a steamer. Steaming can be a fun way to cook, but can also turn disastrous if safety procedures are not followed.

Turn your rice cooker into a steamer

If you regularly eat rice, you probably already have an electric rice cooker. If you don’t, they are widely available at most appliance stores and supermarkets. Using an electric cooker takes the guesswork out of how long to cook your rice. And compared with a pot of rice on a stove, there’s no need to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t dry out. No more burnt rice! Most of these cookers also come with a plastic steaming rack that can be used to steam foods.

All you do is half fill the pot with boiling hot water from the kettle (so you don’t have to wait so long for it to boil), insert the rack with the food, close the lid and press ‘cook’. Depending on what you are steaming, you will need to periodically check on the food’s doneness, but this style of steaming is easy, as you don’t need to check if the water has evaporated – the cooker does that for you. While on the topic of rice cookers, there are a few tricks the Chinese use to ensure evenly cooked and fluffy restaurant-quality rice. As soon as the cooker switches from “cook” to “warm” — don’t lift the lid as this releases the steam and pressure. Both my father and grandmother used to whack my hands if they saw me do this.

I usually wait until I see no steam come from the cooker lid and then open it to “fluff” or aerate the rice with a plastic or wooden rice paddle, bringing the bottom grains up and folding the top grains down so they can cook a bit longer. Replace the lid and wait another 5 minutes. This fluffing method ensures that the rice doesn’t cook into a solid brick. Another hint on using rice cookers is not to use metal utensils to scratch the bottom of the rice pot. Most modern cookers come with non-stick pots but if you scratch the bottom it removes the coating and your rice begins to stick to the base, so only use the plastic paddle it came with or buy a wooden spoon.

Exotic steaming

If the thought of steamed foods conjures up images of boring, tasteless vegetables or overcooked chicken, this episode of Exotic Delights will change your perception of steaming. You may need to visit your local Chinese shop to pick up a few key ingredients like sesame oil and Shao Tsing rice wine to follow today’s recipes but the trip will be well worth it. If you can’t find these sauces, just substitute with any flavoursome ingredients to give the dish more punch.

Chinese steamed eggs are one of my childhood favourite snacks that I used to eat after school or for late night supper. Just whip a few eggs up with a few ingredients, steam and then serve over rice to enjoy this velvety custard that is like a hot panna cotta. Steaming whole seafood in a steamer is classic Cantonese cuisine and when you add aromatic ingredients like ginger and soy, the sweet flavour of the seafood is only accentuated more.

But the most magical recipe tomorrow is a steamed adaptation of a classic Indian recipe of tandoori chicken. I found some locally grown, aromatic Asian pandanus or pandan leaves for this recipe. It is not widely available and very hard to find. I source them from Taveuni for a cocktail recipe at Malamala Beach Club.

South East Asian pandanus or screwpine leaves, have a very floral and sweet smell, like a cross between coconut and vanilla beans. They are used in many Asian dessert recipes but their sweet spice just blew my socks off in this tandoor-spiced recipe, designed especially for lovers of steamed foods. Their rarity is just another reason for farmers to learn more about the exotic herbs, spices, plants and fruits we should be growing in Fiji.

? Lance Seeto is the host of FBC TV’s Exotic Delights which airs every Monday at 7.45pm.

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