A Steamy Start to 2019


Its the time of year where pine needles yellow and drop to the ground, the last slice of holiday pie has been eaten, and New Year’s resolutions are made in hopes of a better tomorrow. If you’ve resolved to eat healthier in 2019, you might want to try out a particularly nutritious cooking method – steaming! Following are some of the advantages of steaming and methods of carrying it out, along with a recipe.

When food is steamed, it is cooked by the steam from a simmering fluid. This fluid is often wine, seafood broth, or water. Juice from the food being cooked can also provide the steam. By adding ingredients to the  simmering fluid, you can influence the flavor of the food. Common additions include shallots, onions, fresh herbs, spices, white wine, and lemon juice. In addition to flavoring the food, these additions can scent the steam1.

Steaming is so healthy because it allows food to retain nutrients that are often lost during the cooking process. A steamed food, in fact, can keep as much as fifty percent as many nutrients as the same food cooked differently. Steaming also doesn’t require the added fats needed for frying2. In addition, during steaming food is allowed to retain flavorful juices that might otherwise have been lost. This keeps the food from drying out1 or getting too tough2.

A compartment steamer. Note the basket for holding the food above the steam from the water in the pot.

There are a variety of ways to steam food. Compartment steaming uses a pot containing a shallow depth of simmering fluid and – above this – a basket that holds the food being cooked. The entire pot is then covered with its lid and heated on a stovetop.  En papillote (meaning “in paper”) steaming steams the food in an aluminum foil or parchment pouch along with the heating fluid. The packet is heated on a grill or in an oven so that the food inside is cooked in its own fluids2. Pressurized steam, or steam subjected to high pressure to render it hotter than normal, can also be used in cooking. The equipment needed to steam food in this way, however, is not accessible to the typical home cook2.


A bamboo steamer

Delicate foods like many seafoods are ideal for steaming, since the distance of the heat source from the food renders it a gentle method of cooking that subjects the food to minimal agitation2. In particular, fish that are lean and flat render themselves perfect for steaming (rounder, more fatty fish are often better to grill or fry). Such fish include red snapper, cod, and tilapia5. Shellfish2, shrimp, lobster6 and crab7 can also be steamed.


Shellfish, crabs, shrimp and lobster can be steamed as well as fish.


As a person who admittedly has never tried steaming seafood, I’ve decided to start out the new year by making a  steamed fish recipe in a steamer that I’ll put together at home. I’m not sure how this is going to go, but if you follow along we can hopefully learn together from anything that might go wrong. I’m going to make a recipe called Chinese – Style Steamed Fish, published by Kam Sung on the Allrecipes website8. I’ll describe the steps and how they turn out as I work through making the recipe.  I  will be starting this recipe with an advantage – top quality cod from Atlantic Seafood.


The  ingredients needed for the recipe are as follows:

  • 2 slices finely chopped fresh ginger root
  • 1 1/2 lbs. cod, in 4 inch pieces
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 4 – inch pieces of six napa cabbage leaves
  • 3 green onions sliced into 3 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 sliced fresh mushrooms
  • cilantro sprigs (to use as garnish)
  • crushed red pepper (to add to individual taste)8

January 2

Atlantic Seafood was closed yesterday when I went to buy the fish, and I won’t be able to get the cod until tomorrow. I have, however, taken other steps for the recipe such as setting up the steamer and slicing the vegetables.

The three aluminum foil balls in the water at the bottom of the steamer.

One perk of steaming is that you don’t need to purchase expensive equipment in order to carry it out. One can make a steamer at home by placing three crumpled aluminum foil balls or a round rack in a generously – sized skillet or wok. This is topped with the  bowl that will hold the food as it cooks. Water is poured one to two inches deep into the bottom of the skillet or wok, such that the boiling water will not come into direct contact with the food. All of this is covered with the skillet’s lid or aluminum foil.  I used this procedure to construct my own makeshift steamer4. Tomorrow I’ll heat the water to boiling to steam the food. Sung mentions in the recipe that a rack can be used rather than foil to hold up the cooking plate. Personally, I’d have preferred to use a rack as it would have been more stable. I don’t have a rack like this, though, so I needed to use the foil. Hopefully the food won’t fall!

January 3

The dish / bowl that I selected with two of the first ingredients added.

Once I had the fish from Atlantic Seafood and saw just how colossally much a pound and a half of cod is, I worried that the steamer I had set up wouldn’t be big enough to hold the fish with the other ingredients and was considering halving the recipe. Through experimentation, though, I found that the fish and other ingredients just fit into a bowl that just fit into the pot. This bowl, which I used due to its fit, was very shallow and almost like a large, deep platter (the instructions on how to set up the steamer had instructed that I use a plate4, while the recipe mentioned the use of a bowl8). I decided to go ahead with the full amounts of ingredients.

To begin the recipe, as per instructions, I laid half of the green onion pieces in the bottom of the bowl. I topped these with half of the napa cabbage leaf pieces and half of the mushroom slices8.

Next I added the fish atop the other ingredients in the bowl. I seasoned the fish with the red pepper flakes, garlic, and ginger8.

When this was done, I put what remained of the napa cabbage, green onions, and mushroom slices on top of the fish8. Over all of this I poured the water and soy sauce8.

When the food was arranged in the bowl, I put the bowl into the steamer pot atop the three balls of aluminum foil. The water in the bottom of the  pot had by this point been brought to a boil. I covered the pot with aluminum foil8 , and lowered the heat from the burner to a level that allowed for only simmering.  It seemed doubtful that only the steam from an inch and a half of water could completely cook the heap of food in the pot in the fifteen to twenty minutes directed, but I would see that this was just what it did.

For the  fifteen to twenty minutes I allowed the food to steam, turning off the heat when the fish could be easily flaked. The last step was to add  the cilantro garnish8.

When I tried the meal along with a side of rice, the fish was perfectly cooked and of just the right texture –  not too firm or too soft. To me it seemed like the flavor was on the bland side, but this could have been due to how I made the dish – the directions were to use the red pepper flakes to taste, and I may not have chopped the ginger finely enough that it mixed evenly throughout the food. Also, Sung suggests in the recipe using broth instead of the water to enhance flavor – a step that I did not take but would probably try next time. Danilo Alfaro, in an online article about steaming for the website the spruce Eats, mentions the importance of seasoning to steamed recipes2.  The flavor of the dish was not one that I was used to, as I haven’t cooked with ginger as a main seasoning before. Overall, making this recipe was a great learning experience for me in steaming seafood – about the procedures and equipment as well as about just how quickly it can work. I would definitely have to try many more of the myriad steaming recipes available, however, to develop  a definite personal opinion about the effectiveness of steaming as a method for cooking seafood. Wishing everyone a happy 2019!



Works Cited

1. NFI Media. “Steaming”.
National Fisheries Institute, 31 July 2008, www.aboutseafood.com/resource/steaming/.

2. Alfaro, Danilo. “All About Steaming”.
the spruce Eats, 4 July 2018, www.thespruceeats.com/steaming-moist-heat-cooking-method-995849.

3. Leaf TV Editor. “How to Steam Fish in a Ziploc Bag”.
leaf, www.leaf.tv/articles/how-to-steam-fish-in-a-ziploc-bag/.
Retrieved 27 Dec. 2018.

4. Evelyne. “Thai Steamed Fish Recipe with Lime and Garlic Sauce”.
CULTUREatz, cultureatz.com/thai-steamed-fish-recipe-lime-garlic-sauce/.
Retrieved 30 Dec. 2018.

5. L., Kirby. “The Best Types of Fish for Frying, Steaming, and Poaching.”
THE HEALTHY FISH by Regal Springs, 24 Aug. 2018, thehealthyfish.com/best-fish-for-frying-steaming-and-poaching/.

6. Hessong, Athena. “How to Steam Lobster & Shrimp”.
our everyday life, 28 Sept. 2017, oureverydaylife.com/how-to-steam-lobster-shrimp-12184013.html.

7. Lavery, Lisa. “Basic Steamed Blue Crabs”.
Chowhound, www.chowhound.com/recipes/basic-steamed-blue-crabs-30377.
Retrieved 31 Dec. 2018.

8. Sung, Kam. “Chinese – Style Steamed Fish”.
allrecipes, www.allrecipes.com/recipe/53551/chinese-style-steamed-fish/.
Retrieved 1 Jan. 2019

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