Get the Most from Your Commercial Steamer
Steam cooking is rising in popularity as more chefs discover its advantages for cooking everything from vegetables and seafood to items that are not usually associated with steaming, like steaks and bread. For the home chef, cooking with steam can be as simple as setting a metal colander over boiling water in a covered pot. When it comes to commercial food steamers that cook in larger batches, such as those used in restaurants and cafeterias, the process requires more specialized equipment, like a dedicated commercial food steamer, and KaTom strives to make buying those supplies as easy as, well, boiling water.
- How a Steamer Works
- Health Benefits of Steaming
- Steaming Correctly
- Which Foods to Steam
- Steamer Accessories
How a Steamer Works
Those unfamiliar with cooking in a commercial kitchen steamer might expect the steamy environment to leave food soggy and dripping wet, but that’s not actually what happens. The steam is a vehicle for spreading an even heat throughout the unit, with that warmth released immediately upon contact with the food. After it passes its heat on, the steam is either collected by a condensate drain, like in boiler-based models, or is partially recaptured, as in boilerless units.
The moist environment inside a steamer provides several benefits that dry cooking methods don't. Because it’s cooking in a steamy environment, your food isn’t going to lose its natural moisture. In fact, if you put a product like poultry into one of these units, you may even notice it plumping as it cooks. Fats melt off of steamed food, giving you a leaner, more healthful end product.
KaTom also offers pressurized steam cookers, with submarine-style doors that lock and cook food more quickly than non-pressurized equipment. As children, we learn that water’s maximum temperature is 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius. Above that temperature, water moves from liquid to gas form, a.k.a. steam. Under normal conditions, steam, like water, can't exceed 212 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning it provides consistent and predictable heating. The only way to heat steam beyond that ceiling is to subject it to a pressurized environment. Keeping steam in a pressurized commercial food steamer allows for it to be heated beyond that limit. The higher the pressure that’s allowed to build up, the higher the temperature of the steam.
Health Benefits of Steaming
We’ve all heard that cooking can sap vegetables of some of their vital nutrients. While that’s true to some extent, the good news is steaming can help retain more of the vitamins found in vegetables. Because it doesn’t involve throwing out the nutrients with the bathwater, so to speak, like boiling does, steam is a better option for cooking vegetables than boiling. Recent studies have also indicated other beneficial elements in foods are actually made more readily usable by the body or are enhanced through cooking. For instance, lycopene, beta-carotene and quercetin, all of which have been found to promote health and fight disease, are believed to be more effective after cooking.1
The health benefits don’t end there. Using a commercial food steamer doesn’t require the use of fats like oils or butter in the cooking process, which cuts out a lot of the unhealthy stuff that can take away from the healthy nature of the vegetables. You may be thinking that you’re also taking away a couple of the chief flavor elements, and while it’s true you’re losing the taste from the fats, steaming also gives you the chance to replace it with others. Commercial kitchen steamers offer the opportunity for spices to be added either before or after cooking.
In their first experiences with a steamer, many cooks assume they need to put a lid or other cover on the cooking vessel, based on years of experience with other methods of bringing heat to food. In a steamer, that's actually counterproductive. It’s the steam itself that transfers the heat, not the pan as in other methods, so the food should have maximum exposure to the steam. If you do make the mistake of covering your food, you’ll end up spending longer to cook it in a steamer than in other oven types because the heat isn’t getting to the food efficiently and you'll probably overcook it. However, if used correctly, a steamer can cut your cooking time by 25 to 35 percent over conventional or convection ovens.
It’s also difficult to overcook something in a commercial food steamer when it's used properly. Unlike dry ovens, which can have areas of varying temperature throughout, steamers offer even heating that will keep food at a steady temperature. Beyond that, the moisture in the cooking keeps things from drying out, so even if the person keeping an eye on the food neglects to take it out for a while after it should have been pulled, it will still be the evenly-cooked and moist dish you expect.
Which Foods to Steam
It seems there’s a lot of confusion about what can be cooked in a commercial food steamer. In America, we’re accustomed to using steam to cook a limited range of foods, with most applications involving seafood or vegetables. However, there are a wide variety of foods that benefit from steaming, some of which you might not expect.
- Bread: Walk into any bakery and you’re likely to see brown, perfectly-domed loaves of bread that look like they’ve come out of some kind of perfect bread mold. The secret is simple steam, and the perfect tool is a commercial combination oven. During the crucial first 5 to 10 minutes of baking, steam from a combination oven can help keep the outside of the dough from cooking faster than the inner portion by keeping the top moist. That helps the loaf rise and develop that perfect crust that doesn’t crack. Steam also leaves a bit of moisture on the top that promotes the crystallization of sugars on the surface, which leaves a light sheen on the crust. After this short time of steaming, humidity in a combination oven should be reduced for the remainder of the baking time. If no such unit is available, the loaf’s formative minutes can be spent in a commercial food steamer, with a move to a regular dry oven after a brief steaming.
- Poultry: In the culinary world, there are few things worse than eating a dry piece of poultry. That can be avoided with the help of a commercial food steamer. Since the air is moist in these units, unlike the dry heat of a conventional oven, the meat retains its natural moisture and tenderness. Further, it holds onto more of its flavor and nutrients, meaning it tastes better and is better for you. Be forewarned: Whether you’re cooking beef or poultry, the meat is likely to come out looking different than you might expect it to. That’s because steaming doesn’t create the browning that other forms of cooking can. To fix that, simply steam the meat to nearly done, then use a more traditional method, such as a grill or oven, to finish for a beautiful presentation and a moist meal.
- Rice: A commercial food steamer is one of the healthiest ways of cooking rice because it does not rely on the addition of fats and allows for better retention of the nutrients applied to certain rice products through the enriching process.
- Seafood: The list of seafood that can be cooked in a commercial food steamer is essentially only limited by what can be hauled out of the water. Everything from crab legs to mussels to fish can be cooked in steam. Steaming seafood allows for some of the natural water to be replaced by steam, reducing some of the overly-fishy scent that might turn some diners off to seafood. Much of the flavor to fish is lost in the process of gutting and fileting, both of which remove parts like the belly fat that go a long way to seasoning the catch. Because of this, many restaurants serve whole fish to preserve the flavor, though this presentation can be a turn-off to squeamish customers and can present some who are unfamiliar with fish anatomy with the challenge of searching out tiny bones.
- Steaks: Believe it or not, commercial food steamers are growing as a preferred method for preparing steaks, particularly larger cuts and those that must be cooked to well-done. Using typical heating methods to get those results can take quite a while with high heat, which can leave the meat flavorless and tough. Steaming, at least for the early part of the cooking process, can keep the cut moist and tender, and leave it moist enough to receive seasoning before it moves on for further cooking. Throw it on the flat top to get that tasty sear or on the grill to achieve those attractive cross-hatches and you’re done.
- Vegetables: As already mentioned, steaming vegetables can allow them to retain much of the natural flavor and nutrients that may be lost through other cooking methods like boiling or sautéing. Cooking fresh produce with steam also leaves open valuable space on the cooktop. It is crucial, however, to be attentive when it comes to cooking vegetables in a commercial food steamer, as it is when cooking them through other methods. Too little time and the end result is little more than wet raw vegetables; too much and you’ll have mush. However, once you figure out the perfect steaming time, you'll have an easy way to produce large amounts of perfectly-cooked vegetables.
In addition to selling the commercial food steamers your kitchen needs, KaTom also offers the accessories that help them work at their best, from perforated steam pans to the cleaners that must be used regularly to keep your steamer clean. Steamer water filters are also available to help ensure the quality of incoming water and extend the life of your equipment.
1. Tomatoes: Cooked Better than Raw? Foodnavigator.com. Accessed March 2016.