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Breaking in a bamboo steamer??

My son just brought home a bamboo steamer, and over Thanksgiving I am going to make some dumplings.

The only other time I used one of these bamboo steamers was ages ago, and I have a vague memory that it imparted a strong bamboo flavor when it was new. Is this correct? Do I need to steam it a couple times before I use it to cook?

Also, I saw a couple of tips about rubbing it with a bit of oil, and maybe using a cabbage leaf or parchment paper to line it (in an old post on washing bamboo steamers). Should I do this?

And of course, if this inspired anyone to post their favorite recipe using a bamboo steamer (at Home Cooking, not here, horrors!) that would be lovely.

Any and all advice appreciated!

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  1. I don't recall any strong bamboo (woody?) flavor when I used mine but I would very strongly suggest using parchment or cabbage leaves as a base. It will certainly reduce the chance of any cross-contamination in the event something breaks open or if you use it to steam fish in the future, for instance. It keeps it clean too!

      1. I washed my bamboo steamer when I first got it ages ago, using ordinary soap and water. I usually use some kind of liner when I'm steaming food because I use it for both sweet and savory foods. Liners can be big leaves or baking parchment, depending on what you're making. Don't be too obsessive about pressing the liner around the edges, you want the steam to pass through.

        1. I just give mine a good soak and line it too especially when I am making steamed dumplings. That dough will stick like crazy to the bamboo and what a mess to clean up. Lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves or parchment. I sometimes cut individual parchment squares for dumplings. I find it easier to get them in and out of the steamer that way.

          1. You can also use rice bags or cheese cloth as a divider - these can flap over the edges (if they're square - which leaves more room for steam), and then you can gather up the ends to remove everything (an advantage over cabbage). And you can reuse after washing!

            1. This maybe sort of a stupid question, but I am a bamboo steamer novice. When you use a stacked bamboo steamer in a pot of water (not a wok) is the bamboo lid sufficient to hold in the steam, or do you have to put the whole thing inside a pot with a lid? Thanks. Also -- does it matter what kinds of food go on the bottom shelf of the steamer, and what kinds go on top? thanks.

              1 Reply
              1. re: PaulineF

                The bamboo lid is sufficient. Put foods that need more cooking time on the bottom layer, closer to the heat. Salmon in the bottom layer, broccoli in the upper, for example.

              2. I bought 2 sets of 12" bamboo steamers together with a 12" steamer pan. Before using it for cooking, I soak the steamer sets in hot waters for 30 minutes. Then I steam the both sets using the steamer pan for 2 hours with wet towels to cover the lid and to seal the bottome edge (do not forget keep adding water from time to time as needed). After that, I soak the both sets in hot water for another 30 minutes. This process reduced the bamboo order and improves the quality as one cooks. I also bought parchment paper (steamer liners), which gives the best results for steaming dumplings.

                2 Replies
                1. re: John Shen

                  Hi John, thank you for this entry. Could I ask why you soak them first, and then steam them with wet towels? why does the bottom need to be "sealed"? thanks!

                  1. re: John Shen

                    Hi John, thanks so much for this information. I'm a little picky and yours seems like the most thorough advice I've seen on seasoning a new steamer. Thanks again.

                  2. Never felt the need to break one in. I do, however, run each part of the steamer under a warm-water faucet and shake out the resulting moisture before each use. Necessary? Probably not. But I've never had the bamboo crack on me. Either way, they're pretty nearly indestructible. Making most dim-sum items at home is a lot of bother. Mostly I used it to steam whole or filet fish, Cantonese style. Once to steam tamales.

                    1. I place a ceramic plate or bowl inside the bamboo steamer and place the food on that. Remove with a pot holder and the plate is already nice and warm for serving. Steam gets all around the dish nicely.

                      Fish, vegetables, dumplings, reheating noodles, rice or beans. B. steamers are a tool I use every day.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: HillJ

                        If I'm concerned about food sticking like dumplings I just wipe a bit of grapeseed oil on the ceramic dish and nothing sticks.

                      2. I do use parchment paper when I make dim sum and sometime using a plate for other applications. As for breaking in, I don't use any special procedure for breaking in. I just use it. I know this is a very old post, but since it has been resurrected, then there must be some other people who are interested in this topic.

                        1. I've never oiled or "broken in" a bamboo steamer, & the one I currently have & use often was purchased back in 1974. Yes, 1974.

                          Unless I'm steaming something like a whole fish or other whole seafood where I use a ceramic dish, I line the steamer with large cabbage leaves before using for dim sum, dumplings, etc., etc.

                          1. I have just bought 2 bamboo steamers and soaked them in water and then "cooked" the steamers in the water for an hour, and the whole kitchen smelled like bamboo and at the end the water were brown.