Orientals are champions of steam cooking, a technique thanks to which they prepare very refined dishes. If you cook vacuum-packed foods, it is a more common technique in restaurants than in houses, steam is known but seems currently relegated to a few ingredients and periods of diet, when you feel the need for a kitchen light and with few seasonings. Because, there is no doubt, steam cooking it's good. In reality, the two components can also coexist: with the right straight, in fact, the steam turns out to be an ally of healthy cuisine which does not exclude the taste. Rather, enhances it. Here's how, point by point.
1. The right tools
This technique requires one steam, of course. But which? Let's examine models and features.
– Those electrical they are practical, they have more stackable baskets, timers, set programs: all you have to do is arrange the food, start and think about something else because the machine does everything by itself, including turning off and keeping warm.
However, like all appliances, they are often quite bulky and in a small kitchen they do not always fit.
– Very small, on the contrary i flower baskets, made of steel or silicone, which adapt to each pot and are stored in a small space. A defect? The flared walls do not allow to take advantage of the space as it would make a flat bottom.
– Le pots equipped with one or more baskets, with flat bottom and capacious, they are now present in all the batteries and practical as they can perform the double function of steam cooker or normal casserole.
– Even some pressure cookers they are equipped with the appropriate accessory and ideal for long cooking such as whole potatoes or cauliflower with big touches.
– If, finally, you want to copy the Orientals, you can buy i stackable bamboo baskets. They exist in different sizes and are placed on a saucepan of the same diameter or in a wok, whose flared walls will hold the baskets raised from the bottom with water.
The only drawback is that wood tends to absorb aromas and more delicate foods (like Chinese dumplings) could stick. For this there are special diskettes of perforated greaseproof paper, with which to coat the basket before putting the food, but you can also use simple baking paper or lettuce leaves.
2. The basic technique
It's very simple. Just put water in the saucepan, food in the basket, lid and go, on the fire!
Of course, with some forethought.
– Thewater it must only come to touch the basket, stopping a few millimeters before to avoid that, during boiling, it goes to wet the food. Put it already hot: it will boil first. The basket can be put into the saucepan immediately.
– It is essential that, from the beginning, there is the cover, to keep heat and steam inside the pot.
– La flame it may initially be medium, to make the water boil. Then it must be lowered to minimum (if necessary, add a flame spreader net), otherwise there is the risk that the water will be consumed before the end of cooking.
– If you need to add more water, take care that it is very hot (better still, boiling) so as not to interrupt cooking: in case, raise the flame until the steam is reformed.
3. Suitable foods
Steam cooking is delicate, the heat never violent or direct. This ensures that the foods are more consistent and tasty and maintain their brilliance. However, times are even longer than a third compared to boiling and cooking in a pan.
– To avoid this inconvenience, it is good to use cut foods in small pieces or of course of small size and / or from rapid cooking, like morsels of meat or fish, prawns, peas, broccoli florets, green beans, etc.
– To be preferred i thin cuts such as slices, rondelle, brunoise (small cubes) and julienne (thin strips).
– In particular, steam lends itself very well to foods that, when boiled in water, tend to soak: formidable for cooking potatoes for dumplings, gives excellent results with the leafy vegetables (chard, spinach) and with vegetables from spongy pulp, like courgettes or aubergines, especially if you want to use the latter for creams and fake "caviar".
– Between the unusual preparations, there are sandwiches and ravioli (both classics of Chinese cuisine), focaccia, delicate omelettes, puddings and sweet pudding. Without forgetting the fruit, for salads cooked to serve still warm.
– Although influenced by various factors (size and quality of the food, which can be more or less rich in water), here is finally i maximum times:
for the leafy vegetables, it takes 3-5 minutes;
for the others, it depends on consistency which times to obtain: more crunchy, oriental, 10 minutes are normally too many. For a consistency soft, more traditional Italian style, for vegetables and soft legumes (peas, fresh broad beans, courgettes, green beans, asparagus) and for the fruit 10-15 minutes;
for the cauliflower or broccoli florets, i Brussels sprouts, le potatoes or le carrots in touches, 5-25 minutes, depending on the size (whole new chips can be up to 35-40 minutes);
prawns and scampi cook in about 5-8 minutes; thin slices or small morsels of meat, white fish, salmon in 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness;
sandwiches, ravioli, focaccia, omelettes and puddings they generally cook in about 15-20 minutes, but the time may vary depending on the recipes and the presence or absence of a filling. For some recipes, to avoid unwanted dripping, use the baking paper, which can slightly change cooking times.
4. How to flavor
As there is no contact, during cooking, with no seasoning, the natural flavor of the food is enhanced with steam. If you use quality raw materials, just a drizzle of raw oil, salt and pepper are enough to enjoy good preparations anyway.
That said, it is possible enrich them with aromas both before and during cooking.
– Before cooking, the most suitable technique is marinating. Clean and prepare the ingredients and, keeping them apart, let them season in small bowls with oil, salt, pepper, chopped herbs and various additions, from soy sauce to balsamic vinegar. Drain well and place them in the basket, lined with baking paper so that the residual condiments do not strain under but remain on the bottom, to further flavor the food.
– During cooking you can perfume the water of the steam adding wine, citrus fruit slices, aromatic leaves, specks of spices. Simmer this broth at least 15-20 minutes, so that the perfumes have time to develop and then wrap the food in the basket.
– Do not underestimate the Eastern technique, which we have already mentioned, of line the basket with ingredients such as large cabbage or cabbage leaves, but also leek sheaths or a bed of sprigs of herbs, woven together.
Photo: Flickr / Stefan Lins
updated by Carola Traverso Saibante
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