Bamboo steamers consist of interlocking baskets that stack on top of each other, with a lid on top. The entire setup is placed over a wok or pot of simmering water, and the steam rises through the open ridges at the bottom of each basket, up through the layers to cook whatever’s inside. Steaming, as a cooking method, is as important in Japanese and Asian cuisine in general as baking or roasting is in American or European cooking. A bamboo steamer can steam not just buns and dumplings, but also breads, vegetables, rice, proteins, and cakes and other desserts.
How to use a bamboo steamer:
Fill your wok or pot with water
Place the bamboo steamer into your wok and fill it with enough water to come up above the bottom rim of the steamer by about a quarter inch to half an inch. The water must come up high enough to submerge the bottom rim of the steamer in water and prevent it from scorching.
Line the steamer
If you’re placing food directly on the steamer bed (as is the case with buns or dumplings, for instance), you will need something to line it with to prevent the food from sticking to the bamboo. You can use large, soft napa cabbage leaves, lettuce leaves, layers of cheesecloth, or even squares of parchment paper. When steaming meats, especially with sauces use a heatproof bowl or plate.
Place food in your bamboo steamer
When placing dumplings, buns, etc. in the steamer, do not overcrowd them. Always leave 1 inch between dumplings, and about 1 1/2 inches between larger buns. If you’d like to steam something in a bowl or plate, there is no need to line the steamer. Make sure that there’s enough open space around the bowl or plate to allow the steam to rise up and circulate around the food.
You can place steamer in cooking vessel either over lightly boiling water or over cold water. In general your default is the latter. Once the water in the pot is simmering, it will start to evaporate. Allow the food to steam for as long as the recipe indicates, but keep an eye on it and add boiling water as needed.
Care for your bamboo steamer
To clean your bamboo steamer, wash with a sponge and mild dish soap, immediately rinse thoroughly. Let the steamer air dry for at least 2 days before storing to prevent any mildew. Do not put your bamboo steamer in the dishwasher. Do not soak it in water in the sink for more than 5 minutes.