Bamboo steamers are gorgeous, functional kitchen tools, that make the delicate cooking method nearly effortless. But much like cake sticking to the pan, food sticking to the bamboo is a special kind of heartbreak. In order to use a bamboo steamer effectively, you need to know how to line them.
Steamer basket liners create a barrier between the food and the bamboo for easy removal after it’s finished. The liner holds onto juices and keeps soft dough intact, all while allowing the steam to flow between and around the food for even cooking. Most of the common options are affordable and easily available, and there are a few modern reusable options too.
Parchment paper is a common material to line bamboo steamer baskets. It’s cut into a circle to fit the diameter of the inner compartment, the same way you would cut a liner for a cake pan. Parchment paper is semi-porous, so technically you’re good to go, but you can increase airflow by cutting some holes into the paper. When you’ve cut the wedge of folded parchment to make a circular liner, stop before you unfold it. Cut a few little triangles out of the folded side, as if you were making a really boring snowflake. When you unfold it, there will be several evenly spaced holes for the steamy air to move through. Fit it into the steamer and load the food right on top.
For small, individual items, or in the absence of parchment paper, you can use paper cupcake liners. Place one under each morsel of food, or flatten them out and shingle them over the inside of the liner. Put the food on top and steam away.
Plants are the original paper anyway. Cabbage leaves, kale, banana leaves, corn husk (fresh or dry), and those ribs of cauliflower leaves you always chuck — all make excellent bamboo steamer liners. These hearty plant leaves are perfect because they’re thin, so they don’t take up valuable vertical space, and they’re durable, so they won’t disintegrate during periods of humid heat, and — listen, I love leaves, but — they’re relatively flavourless, so they won’t impart any of their business onto your food. Lay your leaves of choice in the steamer basket, side by side, or slightly shingled, cutting off excess length. The leaves should sit on the bottom of the basket, there’s no need for them to curl up the side.
Those who find themselves relying on their steamer regularly might consider a more permanent addition to their bamboo basket set-up. You can buy the silicone liner equivalent of perforated parchment paper, cloth for steamers, or regular cheesecloth. Silicone is easy to clean along with your other dishware, and the woven fabric options can usually be washed by hand.
In the event you have absolutely nothing to line your bamboo steamer with, you can always use a heat-resistant plate. The cooking might be a bit uneven because there won’t be air circulating underneath, but on the flip side, plates are better at catching tasty juices, depending on what you’re steaming. With any of the above-mentioned liners, but especially with plates because they retain heat, be careful when removing the food. It’s hot in there.
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