What is a steamer? And how do you use it? Knowing your kitchen equipment, and what it does, is a skill that any and all trained to work in commercial kitchens should know. And, is all handy information provided in the Certificate III Commercial Cookery.
What is a steamer? Generally it is a closed box or chamber, which is heated by filling the chamber with steam. Food placed into the chamber is heated by direct conduction in contact with the steam. Steamers may be freely vented which allows them to operate at about normal pressure and a little above 100°C; however, some may also be insulated and pressurised, which means they can cook at higher temperatures.
The way steamers generate steam is to boil water to high temperatures. As steam is generated, the water is used up. The water reservoir, in most modern steamers, fill automatically; but older models may require a tap being turned on before heating and being turned off after use, to provide a continuous source of steam and therefore consistent heating. In other cases, the reservoir of boiling water in stovetop steamers must be checked and refilled from time to time, so that they don’t boil dry.
There are a few different types of steamers, with most being generally powered by electricity, but they may also be heated by gas. Where stand-alone steamers require a little time to heat up, sometimes they are supplied with live steam from a remote location, when steam would be available on demand. Other steamers may be floor-mounted, and smaller steamers operate on a stovetop.
As steamer parts become very hot, the safe handling of utensils, steamer trays, and steamer parts requires care and planning. It is important to always use folded, DRY cloths to handle items, this minimises the risk of not only burning yourself, but also using dry cloths minimises the risk of generating more steam. Have your sleeves down when handling items, to avoid steam burns on exposed skin.
Make sure you and others are safe when opening steamer doors. Stand beside the door as you open it and use the door as a shield. Wait until the heat and steam has cleared before continuing. Ensure that the floor between the steamer and your work area is clean, clear of obstructions and not greasy before you place or remove items, and as always, clean up any spills immediately.
Pressure steamers have special locking systems to prevent opening the door whilst they are pressurised. Opening the door under pressure would result in serious injury to the operator, the steamer, and possibly other people, as steam escapes violently.
DO NOT attempt to open pressurised steamers before the pressure have been normalised, and DO follow manufacturer’s instructions. Utilising safe kitchen practices is also of vital importance when working with pressure steamers.
The cooking method of steaming is to cook food by direct contact with steam. The pressure and moist heat from steam can be used to cook foods without the use of unnecessary fats and oils, making this a favourite option when cooking Asian foods, and for those that are health conscious. The amount of pressure will vary with the type of equipment used, but you should note that the higher the steam pressure, the higher the temperature of the steamer and the quicker the food will cook.
Simple methods of steaming involves placing food on a tray, rack, perforated container or sieve within a pan of boiling water, then covering it with a tight-fitting lid, leaving the food until it is cooked to perfection. Steaming is a very nutritious method of cooking as food flavour, colour and nutrients are retained but no fats or oils are used, making this a preference to boiling, grilling, frying or baking. Steaming is best used for foods that can be cooked without deterioration in flavour, colour and texture, generally foods such as Asiatic pastries, vegetables, and proteins that can dry out easily with traditional methods, such as chicken and seafood. Cooking fruits and vegetables by this method is most advantageous, as it is a faster method of cooking, helping to retain the vitamin C content of the food.
There are two types of steaming: atmospheric steaming and high pressure cooking. With atmospheric steaming, moist heat is introduced and circulated in a continuous flow. The pressure for atmospheric cooking is around or just above normal atmospheric pressure. The cooking temperature is 103°C. Foods that are suitable for atmospheric steaming include:
Meat – tender cuts, fillet, sirloin
Vegetables – most vegetables, with the exception of some green vegetables, such as beans, which may discolour
Seafood – any type, whole or portioned
Puddings – sponge puddings.
Using your commercial steamer, in a safe and effective way, is an important kitchen skill, not only for the safety of yourself and your colleagues, but also as a tool for the assembly of creative and eye-catching dishes for your menu. For more information on Club Training Australia’s Certificate III Commercial Cookery – visit our website and enquire today.