Steam cooking is an ancient way of cooking vegetables, fish and chicken. All you need is a steamer basket and a pot that the basket fits in and you're good to go. Steamer baskets can be made from metal or bamboo, be a part of a cookware set or can be electric. For a regular steamer basket, it sets above 2 to 3 inches of water in a pan or wok. Electric steamers work in much the same way, except for rice and grains that are cooked directly in the water.
Place the vegetables in a single layer in the steamer basket for the shortest cooking times. Peas have the shortest cooking time being done in about 2 minutes. Broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and asparagus will be done in 4 to 6 minutes, while cabbage, carrots and corn on the cob will be ready in about 6 to 10 minutes depending on how tender you want them. Brussels sprouts may take as long as 12 minutes to steam. All vegetables can be cooked longer than the recommended time if you prefer them softer than the current trend of crisp tender, but take care not to overcook as they can become mushy.
Season the fish before steaming and if desired, place a thin pat of butter on each fillet before placing in the steamer. Steam fish 10 minutes for each inch of thickness. If a fillet is only 1/2 inch thick, the fish will be fully cooked in 5 minutes. Thicker fish may take longer.
Chicken breasts can be steamed for 10 to 25 minutes depending on size. Steam chicken in a covered steamer and check for doneness with a meat thermometer in the thickest part. Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 73.9 degrees C before serving. For larger bone-in chicken, such as legs, thighs or small Cornish hens, check the temperature after 25 minutes. Continue to steam until the temperature is achieved at the thickest part of the meat.
Use fruit juices or soup stock instead of water to add flavour to any food you steam. You can also add spices to the water, along with onions or garlic to infuse the food with a hint of extra flavour. When cooking chicken or fish, season the meat before placing the steamer basket over the water. If you are planning to steam several layers of food, such as in a bamboo steamer, place the longest cooking foods on the bottom rack and the shortest at the top.