Steaming is a traditional Chinese cooking method that is ideal for today's trend towards healthy eating as very little or no oil is used. Steaming also results in a more nutritious food than boiling because fewer nutrients are destroyed or leached away into the water. It's simple and yet able to enhance an ingredient's natural flavor. Steaming is a test of the quality of the raw ingredient and therefore a favorite method of cooking very fresh fish by the Chinese. All sorts of foods are steamed: meats, dumplings, vegetables and buns and the fresher the ingredients, the better they are for steaming. The Chinese sometimes steam their food plain such as ham or beaten eggs with only salt and water.
There are several ways to steam food at home. The ingredients e.g. fish, slices of ginger, cabbages, seasonings and water are mixed and arranged in a bowl or plate, and then it is placed on a rack in a large pot or wok of boiling water with the lid on. The water is kept one inch below to prevent over boiling into the steamed bowl. Sometimes no water need to be added to the steamed bowl and the natural juice and condensed steam will give just enough juice. For best results, the water should be boiling and not cold when the food goes into the steamer and the flame should be high enough to keep it boiling. One tip I can offer is to have a thermo flask of hot water nearby for refill as the water evaporates during cooking.
Another steaming variation by the Chinese is called 'double boiling'. To double-boil, the bowl or casserole of ingredients is half immersed in water inside a large pot which is covered by a lid and the food is cooked partly by the boiling water and partly by the steam it produces. Food steamed this way comes out very soft, tender and nutritious.
Many forms of dim sum, dumplings and pastries are steamed dry. The Chinese use bamboo steamers that stack one on top of each other, up to as high as five layers. The bottom of each basket is a grid which allows the steam from the wok to rise all the way to the top of the stack. Dishes needing the most steaming are placed on the bottom, with ones needing less on the top level. Cantonese are well known for their steamed dishes. The bamboo steamers are not suitable if you wish to retain the precious sweet juices that ooze out of the food to be steamed because they will drip away through the grids unless of course if the steamers are big enough for you to put a whole plate in.
There are aluminum or stainless steel stacked steamers available in the market. To some Chinese, this is an indispensable piece of equipment and priced very reasonably too. The bottom section is a pot that holds water for steaming and on top of it is stacked with one or two pots with perforated bottom to allow steam to pass through from the boiling water below. It also comes with a lid too. Stacked steamers are large enough so that a whole fish in a plate can fit in with enough room left on its sides to allow the steam to rise through.
You can also improvise a simple make-shift steamer : place a small bowl upside down or a metal can in a pot filled with water with a lid and balance the dish holding the food on it and you're on your way to making a healthful meal.
Compared with food cooked by other methods, steamed dishes are more subtle in taste. Not only steaming retains the taste of the ingredients, but also its vitamins and nutrients. Steamed food is particularly favored by the middle-ages.