|Dim sum in a Chinese Steamer|
Photo by Young
Steaming Chinese food is the least invasive to the ingredients of all methods of Chinese Cooking. This is a method of cooking with steam rather then by boiling water. Steam is capable of cooking any food. It starts with a wok full of boiling water and a set of nifty Chinese steamers. These are stacking circular baskets made of bamboo or stainless steel that are available in most kitchen supply stores or Chinese supermarkets. They have woven bamboo bottoms to allow the steam to pass through. It is important though to place a paper towel over their bottoms so that the food will not stick to the bamboo. Steamed food whether it is vegetable, fruit, fish or meat is tender and because it is steamed retains most of its nutrients. Steaming can be used on portions of meals or can be made to create an entire meal.
As in all techniques of Chinese cooking it is important that you segregate the ingredients by density placing the more dense ingredients at the bottom of a stack of steamers. At the same time the ingredients have to be cut into uniform bite sized pieces so that they will cook evenly.
Some modern micro-wave ovens include a way to cook food by steaming providing a separate vessel to hold the water so that the water never comes into contact with the food only steam. This technique is perfectly suited to the traditional Chinese steaming and may be substituted in its place. The food that is steamed gives the dishes a moist texture, and for the health conscious there is no oil involved giving added calories.
It is also the simplest technique to master as it is almost impossible to either overcook or burn the ingredients when steaming them. Using the steaming method also gives a more nutritious food because the vitamins and minerals are not leached away as they are by boiling the food as is common with Western cooking methods. Steaming reduces vitamin C by 15% whereas boiling will reduce it by 25%. All of the other nutrients are reduced by the same amount whatever method is used for cooking. The only real disadvantage to steaming is that it is the least efficient of any of the cooking methods because most of the energy is lost to the low-efficient water that is making steam.
In Western cooking the steaming technique is usually reserved for vegetables whereas in Chinese cooking it is usually the fish, shellfish or meat that is steamed. A steamed meat dish in most Chinese restaurants is a rarity though because it is more efficient to stir fry them, besides that the Westerners won’t know the difference.