Yesterday we talked about one of my favorite cooking methods, steaming. We provided a foodie hack for those of you who don’t have anything special to steam in, but if you’re a fan of the method and interested in getting some steaming equipment, you’ll be glad to know that you’ve got lots of great choices.
The standard option is what’s called a steamer pot. It consists of a covered base pot, which is typically a stock pot big enough to boil a couple of lobsters in, as well as one or more steaming inserts that fit nice and neat inside the base.
The one I have (pictured) came with a shallow insert, a few inches deep, that I use for small batches of stuff, as well as a deeper insert that sits about halfway down into the pot. It works great for steaming things like long, beefy asparagus spears or a dish of Chinese turnip cake. You can grab something similar in a variety of sizes—they run about $33 for a 3-quart or $50 for an 8-quart, and go all the way up to 60+ quarts. Crawfish boil, anyone?
There are lots of other versions, too. Some stack together instead of sitting inside each other. Some just come with a flat steam “rack,” which I caution against since you’re pretty limited in what you can do with it. This handsome clay version looks less versatile than the standard but could easily double as decor or a presentation vessel.
Then there are a variety of standalone steam baskets (by that I mean that you buy them on their own; they still need the assistance of a base pot of boiling water to get the job done). The first type of steaming tool I ever had was one of these guys, the collapsible metal kind you can find for $5 to $10.
I’ve since become a big fan of their Asian cousins, made of bamboo. These are great because they’re stackable, so that you can do different foods in different baskets and get them all steamed at once. It’s best to use leafy greens, corn husks, banana leaves, or some other cover for the bottom of each basket, and to layer heavier/denser foods closest to the steam and lighter/leafier stuff higher up the stack. They can also double as tortilla warmers, decorations, gift baskets, or storage for non-food items. A set of 2 will run you about $10.
Of course, there are all kinds of fancier and more specialized gadgets made just for steaming. This countertop electric steamer was recommended by The Kitchn—it has three layers, starts steaming in less than 15 seconds, and comes with automatic shut-off so you never have to eat limp carrots or mushy squash again. If you’d like to get a countertop steamer, I’d recommend sticking with stainless over the cheaper plastic varieties; both because they’ll last longer and because I tend to be anti-plastic in the kitchen when there are other options, just to be safe.
Now that you’re up to speed on steaming and its many implements, I encourage you to go find some beautiful local produce or wild-caught fish and give it a try. Once you see how easy it is, I’m willing to bet you’ll be getting steamy on a regular basis.