Steaming is one of the healthiest ways of cooking all kinds of foods: vegetables retain more of their vitamins and minerals when cooked this way, and it's great for proteins from the sea like clams and salmon and delicate foods like eggs too. But, what if you don't have a steamer? Not to worry, there are ways to enjoy the benefits of steam-cooking without any extra special equipment. Whether you have a garden full of green beans and need healthy steamed green bean recipes, or want incorporate more omega-3s into your eating pattern and need to learn how to steam fish without a steamer, we have options for everyone.
Related: How to Steam Broccoli
How does steam-cooking work?
Steam cooking simply uses the heat of the steam generated by a small amount of simmering water, or other liquid, to cook food that is suspended above the surface of the liquid. Boiling or poaching can leach nutrients from foods into the liquid. Steaming, because the food doesn't touch the water, allows more nutrients to be retained. For steaming, you need a method of suspending your ingredients over the water, and a tightly fitting cover to ensure that the steam does not escape.
How do steamers work?
Most steamers involve a basket of some sort to elevate food above the surface of the liquid. This may be a removable basket that can be used in a variety of pots or pans, a specialized pot insert or a stackable set of baskets, as with bamboo steamers. There are also electric steamers, which are either small portable gadgets or built-in appliances designed especially for steaming applications.
How can you steam without a steamer?
There are a few easy ways to enjoy steamed foods without a steamer! Essentially, you just need to be able to create a steamy environment for your foods that can be maintained for as long as you need to cook your ingredients.
If you have a heat-safe colander, you can place it inside a large, lidded pot to create a steamer. If you're steaming small items, use the perforated bowl to contain the ingredients. If you're steaming larger foods like corn on the cob or lobsters, flip it over and arrange the foods atop it.
You can make a snake or balls of foil to arrange on the bottom of a lidded pot to be able to elevate a heatproof plate or bowl above the surface of your simmering liquid to create a steamer.
If you have a round wire cooling rack that fits inside one of your lidded pots, or the kind of rack that goes inside an Instant Pot, you can use it to elevate a heatproof plate or bowl for steaming.
What foods are best for steaming?
There are all kinds of foods that benefit from steam-cooking. For fish like tilapia, which may dry out, steaming will keep the fish succulent and tender. Shellfish won't get rubbery the way they can with boiling, and chicken breasts, notorious for getting overcooked, benefit from the gentle moist environment to keep them juicy. Any green vegetable, like broccoli or spinach, will retain both their deep green color and many of their nutrients with steaming, and there is no better way to get sugar-sweet corn on the cob than to give your ears a steam bath. Many comfort dishes like dumplings or idli (South Indian steamed rice-and-lentil cakes) are steam-cooked. Baby potatoes get an intensified potato flavor similar to baking, but with that tender texture you usually associate with boiling. Perfect hard-boiled eggs can be achieved by steaming too.
Steaming is a simple way to let ingredients shine. Since steaming requires no submerging in liquid that can leach nutrients, it's one of the most nutritious ways to prepare vegetables. And for any delicate items, the gentle cooking method is very forgiving, so it's a great way to get some kitchen confidence with harder-to-handle foods like seafood.