What’s In Your Steam?

Chowhound home cook dickgrub always assumed that the food he cooked in his steamer came into contact with pure, neutral-tasting vaporized water, period. But it turns out that all kinds of things are present in the steam, and some of them can add off flavors to your food.

One of the chemicals most present (and most likely to affect food flavor) is chlorine. The good news is that chlorine is pretty easy to remove from tap water—the gas escapes from liquid water even at room temperature, Chemicalkinetics says. You can either let your cooking water sit out for a day or two before using, or just give it a preliminary boil, ninrn says.

Even better news is that you can add aromatic herbs, fruits, and vegetables to the cooking water to flavor food as it steams. Will Owen likes to add a big pinch of dried rosemary to the steaming water under summer squash. Celery stalks, carrot peelings, and onion skins go into travelerjjm's steaming water. And Hobbert tosses in ginger or citrus. (In Chinese cooking, aromatics like ginger and lemon are often placed on top of, or mingled with, the foods being steamed rather than added to the steaming liquid, paulj says.) And any liquid, not just stock or water, can be used to flavor steamed foods, Chemicalkinetics says—try beer, wine, or vinegar, to name just a few possibilities.

Discuss: Is there more than steam in steam?

Photo by Flickr member Barkaw under Creative Commons