International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Steaming: Method and Recipes

Steamed siu mai dim sum

Image © iStockphoto

As the term implies, steaming involves suspending food over simmering or boiling water and cooking it with the resulting steam. Steaming as a method is valued for the fact that it preserves vitamins and minerals in the food that might otherwise be washed away with boiling. It is also a way to cut back on fat, since none is needed, unlike sauteing or grilling.

The simplest way to steam food is to place a steaming basket in a saucepan over about an inch or two of water. Place the seasoned food to be steamed in the basket, cover it with a lid and bring the water to a slow boil. Most foods will finish cooking in anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.

Many vegetables are ideal for steaming, as are fillets of fish and many types of shellfish. Tougher cuts of meat are not as good for steaming since they need more cooking time to get tender. But chicken breasts do well.

Chinese bamboo steamers are ideal for the task. They can be placed in a wok or over a pot they fit tightly. Bamboo steamers come in a range of sizes and are used for dim sum like steamed, filled buns, siu mai and potstickers, and for fish and seafood and even whole chickens and ducks. Make sure to clean your bamboo steamer well and let it thoroughly air dry.

Asians like to steam rice, although this is usually done in rice cookers made just for the purpose.

Latin American cuisine also makes use of steaming foods. Mexican tamales, Venezuelan hallacas, Nicaraguan nacatamales, and Bolivian humitas are all steamed. Mexicans use a large pot with a built-in steaming platform called a tamalera.

Steaming Recipes


Freshly steamed nacatamal

(Honduran, Nicaraguan meat and vegetable-filled tamales)


Plate of baho

(Nicaraguan beef, plantains and yuca steamed in banana leaves)


Bao (Chinese steamed, filled buns)

(Chinese steamed, filled buns)

Siu Mai

Steamed siu mai

(Chinese steamed pork and shrimp dumplings)

Moin Moin

Nigerian savory steamed bean pudding

(Nigerian savory steamed bean pudding)


A bowl of Uzbek manti dumplings

(Central Asian steamed meat dumplings)


Clambake (American New England seafood and vegetable beach barbecue)

(American, New England seafood and vegetable beach barbecue)


Nasu Japanese eggplant sashimi

(Japanese steamed, sliced eggplant)

Lo Mai Gai

Lo Mai Gai (Chinese rice steamed in lotus leaves)

(Chinese rice steamed in lotus leaves)