Fill the pot with several inches of water, making sure that the level of the water doesn't touch the bottom of the container holding the...

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Fill the pot with several inches of water, making sure that the level of the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the container holding the food. If using a collapsible metal basket, the level of the water will probably be an inch or less.

Scent the steaming water with any of the following: slices of ginger, onion, garlic or citrus fruit; whole spices such as cinnamon stick and star anise; small branches of herbs such as rosemary or thyme. These aromatics lend just a hint of seasoning to the food.

The food should be added to the steamer only after the water has been brought to a boil, and the pot should be covered to distribute steam evenly. Make sure the cover fits snugly so that steam doesn’t escape, which can extend cooking times. Heavy aluminum foil can be used in place of a lid.

If food needs to be cooked for a longer time — potatoes for example — check the water level periodically to make sure it hasn’t boiled dry. Have a kettle of simmering water ready in case extra water is needed.

If using a tiered steamer, place meats or fish in the bottom tier so that juices can drip into the water below. Food in the upper tier may need an extra few minutes of cooking time.

Whether it’s fish fillets, broccoli florets or spears of asparagus, food for steaming should have a uniform size and thickness for even cooking. Thinner ends of fish can be folded under to even out a fillet, and thinner pieces of asparagus can be added to the steamer a minute or two after the thicker spears.

Ideally, food should be cooked in a single layer with a little space in between so that steam circulates freely. But if that’s not possible, stir or turn the food occasionally.

When strongly flavored vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts begin to give off their fragrance during steaming, they should be close to a tender-crisp texture. Test by inserting a small paring knife into the center of a couple florets and steam a few more minutes if necessary.

Choose lean, tender meats that don’t require longer cooking times.

When uncovering a steaming pot, wear oven mitts to protect hands and arms, and remove the lid away from you.

Source: “Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking Equipment & Ingredients”; “Steam Cuisine” by Jenny Stacey