Steaming is a gentle, fat-free cooking method that keeps the natural moisture in foods. This method uses the steam from a simmering liquid (usually water, seafood broth, or wine) to transfer heat to, and cook, a food. It is an excellent choice for preparing delicate seafood because there is a safe distance between the food and heat source, which helps to protect against drying. And steaming, unlike poaching or boiling, keeps flavorful juices and nutrients inside the seafood, rather than letting them escape into the surrounding cooking liquid.
Many steaming vessels (bamboo steamers, pasta pots with a steaming insert, or pans specifically created for whole fish) are available in stores. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for assembling the equipment and keeping the correct level of liquid in the vessel during cooking.
To make your own steamer, find a deep, wide pot and fill it about two inches full of cooking liquid. Placing a few small, heatproof dishes (ramekins or tea cups) in the bottom of the pot and set a wire rack on top. Tightly cover the pot with a lid and bring the liquid to a simmer. Place the food to be steamed either directly on the rack or on a small plate on top of the rack and cover again. This method works especially well for finfish.
For shellfish, such as clams and mussels, try a simpler technique. Bring an inch or less of cooking liquid to a boil in a pan with a tightly fitting lid. Add the shellfish, cover again, and cook until most have opened. Discard any unopened shellfish. This technique may also be used for crabs and lobsters.
Boost the flavor of steamed seafood by simmering ingredients such as lemon juice, white wine, onions, shallots, spices, or fresh herbs in the cooking liquid for a few minutes before steaming. These ingredients will scent the steam and add a subtle, but delicious, flavor directly into the seafood.