Choosing the Best Vegetable Steamer
Ray KachatorianI must admit I tend to prefer sautéed vegetables because of the flavor and richness that butter imparts. But lately, the vegetables I've been getting -- carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, for instance -- are so delicious I don't want to obscure their flavor with fat, even something virtuous, like olive oil. So I've been steaming them -- that is, cooking them, covered, over a small amount of simmering water -- with great results. Aside from the fact that vegetables cooked this way retain more nutrients than those cooked by many other methods (boiling, for example), they come out crisp-tender, hold their color and taste pure and completely of themselves. I like to add the leftover steaming water, with whatever nutrients it contains, to a pot of soup.
The Best Inexpensive SteamersYou can't do any better than the sturdy, collapsible Progressive International 9-Inch Easy Reach Stainless Steel Steamer Basket (about $8 from amazon.com). I tossed out my old, slightly rickety one in favor of this newer model; the center rod is adjustable, so that removing the steamer from variously sized pots is quick, simple and safe.
The OXO Good Grips Pop-Up Steamer (about $17 from amazon.com), which works along the same lines as the Progressive, above, is extremely stable, but everyone has issues with the pop-up handle. It's too long and must be pushed into the "down" position before you cover the pot. To remove the basket, I had to risk burning my fingers to release the handle. The instructions suggest putting a fork through the top of the handle instead, but hmmm....
In general, I'm not crazy about silicone kitchen tools, but the 8 1/2-inch Chef'n Sleekstor VeggiSteam Silicone Steamer (about $12 from amazon.com) is well-made, easy to clean, and-miraculously-seems to be truly odor resistant. It can also be used in the microwave, so there really is no excuse not to eat plenty of veggies. It's available in a family-friendly 11-inch version as well ($19.99 from amazon.com).
Steamers like Joyce Chen's 10-Inch Bamboo Steamer Set (about $25 from amazon.com), which have been used for centuries in Asia, are rigged with two slatted bamboo shelves, doubling the acreage, so to speak. Many people will tell you that this steamer is made for a wok -- and it is -- but simmering water in a wok will remove any well-seasoned finish. Unless you dedicate another wok to steaming, then choose a pot that's slightly wider than the steamer. Make sure the steamer fits far enough into the pot to balance securely. To keep the bamboo clean and prevent sticking, always line the shelves with a round parchment paper or an even layer of lettuce leaves, which are neutral in flavor.
The Best Expensive SteamersThe All-Clad Stainless Steamer Insert ($49.95 from amazon.com) allows you to turn a 3-, 3 1/2-, or 4-quart saucepan into a heavy-duty steamer that's large enough for two bunches of broccoli or asparagus. It's also rugged enough to handle a few pounds of mussels or clams.
Now, if you want a cover with that, you'll have to fork over an extra ten bucks for the All-Clad Stainless All-Purpose Steamer with Lid ($59.95 at amazon.com).
Or, you could decide to go with Cuisinart's Multiclad Pro Stainless Universal Steamer with Cover (about $35 from amazon.com). I'm just sayin'.
A note from Jane Lear: I don't accept free products or consider products for inclusion in these columns on the basis of press releases or marketing campaigns. My suggestions are based on my years as a food writer and home cook.
More on Kitchen Equipment and Cooking
- Get Jane Lear's advice on more kitchen equipment, including chef's knives and roasting pans.
Watch our video on how to steam vegetables.
- Browse all steaming recipes.
- Learn more about lighter cooking techniques, including steaming and stir-frying.
- Read about more good-for-you cooking gear at That's Fit.