Steaming Vegetables Without a Steamer

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Steaming gently cooks food to preserve its natural flavor, nutrients, and moisture. It is a standard method for cooking vegetables, meats and fish, dumplings, and eggs. However, a steamer is not required to achieve the desired result; its primary benefit is its ability to steam multiple foods at once. If you’re only cooking one ingredient, a steamer is unnecessary. 

There are a few considerations to keep in mind regardless of your method. First, you should never overfill your steamer. This will result in food that is either overcooked or almost raw. Second, add the food only when the water begins to boil. Allowing your food to heat up with the water extends the cooking time and results in unevenly cooked food. Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s explore the best ways to steam food without a steamer. 

Mesh Sieve or Colander 

Regardless of the cooking method, you need a heat-resistant container that conducts heat evenly and does not shatter during the cooking process. These factors make using a mesh sieve or colander an obvious choice. Ensure that your pot has the proper dimensions: it should be large enough to accommodate your sieve or colander but deep enough to prevent the water from touching your vegetables. Using this technique, you can easily steam a delicate dish of fern fiddleheads. 

Three Simple and Quick Methods for Steaming Broccoli Illustration demonstrating how to steam broccoli 

Aluminum Foil, Two Ways 

Is not aluminum foil somewhat magical? It is flexible, reusable, and an excellent conductor of heat. You can either form it into a trivet or perforate it to create a makeshift colander for steaming. If you’re wondering what a trivet is, it’s an object designed to absorb direct heat. This could be the grate on top of a gas stove when cooking. 

To make a trivet from aluminum foil, tear off 1 to 2 feet of foil and roll it into a donut shape. Please place it in the pan on the stove, and once the water is boiling, place the heat-safe bowl containing the vegetables on the aluminum foil trivet. 

To create a colander out of aluminum foil, measure and rip a piece large enough to fit over the rim of your pan, leaving enough room to create a depression in the foil and fold the edges over the pan. Then, double your layers to make them sturdy, poke holes in them, and steam your vegetables. Keep in mind that this method requires a substantial amount of aluminum foil, so it should only be used in a pinch. 

Wire Rack 

Those wire racks you use to cool baked goods can also serve as a simple vegetable steamer when necessary. This method is quite simple, requiring only a standard pan of boiling water (the more comprehensive, the better) and a wire rack. As with all steaming techniques, ensure that the food is covered so that the steam can circulate thoroughly. You will not be able to achieve a perfect seal between your lid and pan, but this will not affect the outcome. Use this method to wilt rich greens for warm dishes. 

Microwave 

The microwave cooks food quickly, making it ideal for cooking convenience. In addition, it is a tried-and-true method for steaming vegetables. Cut firm vegetables, such as potatoes, into uniform slices and place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Then add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water, cover with a microwave-safe lid, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. 

This method is ideal for dressed or otherwise embellished dishes, such as potato salad. For softer vegetables, such as green beans, you will follow the same steps, but cook them for only three to five minutes. Regardless of what you’re steaming, you should frequently pause your microwave and inspect your food to avoid overcooking it. 

Blanching 

Blanching is not technically steaming, but it is an excellent alternative if you have limited cooking equipment. Begin the blanching process by locating a large pot to allow the vegetables to tumble freely while boiling. Then, pour heavily salted water (about 1 cup per gallon) into the pot and bring it to a rapid boil. In the meantime, prepare an ice bath to shock your blanched vegetables (quickly stop the cooking process). Most vegetables only require 1 to 3 minutes of cooking time before they’re ready to be removed and shocked, but if you don’t intend to scare them, remove them slightly early because they will continue cooking while resting. 

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