Bamboo steamers are cooking trays commonly used in the creation of Asian cuisine. Like other bamboo cookware, they can also, of course, be used in the preparation of food from other cultures. They are extremely convenient and easy to use, and are stocked by most Asian restaurant supply stores. They come in a range of sizes and styles designed to meet the needs of different cooks.
A basic bamboo steamer is hoop-shaped, with a latticed bottom and a snug top. The steamer is placed into a wok or pan with a shallow layer of water with food inside. Steam travels through the holes in the steamer to cook the food. In most cases, the steamers are designed to fit inside a wok, since this all purpose cooking pan is found in many Asian kitchens.
The stacking ability of bamboo steamers is what makes them so unique and useful. Multiple steam trays can be piled on top of each other to cook simultaneously. Therefore, one burner can be used to produce multiple steamers full of food, which is very useful in a busy restaurant or at home when a large meal is being cooked. Oversized steamers designed for extra large pots can be used for big trays of food, and smaller ones are employed in kitchens with limited space.
Both fresh and frozen food can be cooked in bamboo steamers. To prevent the food from sticking, parchment paper or greens are laid down first, so that the food can be easily removed. Dim sum and fresh vegetables are both commonly cooked in bamboo steamers, and they are sometimes brought out to the table in the steamers as well. In busy dim sum parlors, diners can select steamers from large rolling carts full of food, and the steamers are counted at the end of the meal to settle the tab.
Individual meals can also be cooked in bamboo steamers. They are excellent for quick reheating, since you can simply set a heat safe plate inside the steamer and pull the plate out when it is ready. When using these steamers for this purpose, make sure to use a plate that does not completely obscure the latticed bottom of the steamer.
Bamboo is naturally antibacterial, so if you care for bamboo steamers well, they should yield years of use. The cookware should be washed with mild soap and warm water after use, and be allowed to drain completely before it is put away. Never put bamboo steamers in the dishwasher, and try to avoid direct food to steamer contact.