Steaming is one of the healthiest ways to cook food. With no need to add extra fat, steaming gently cooks your food, locking in moisture and nutrients in the process.
Steam cooking is also incredibly easy. You can buy a stainless steel steamer basket that fits in a standard saucepan or dedicated steamer pans with two or three tiers to use on the hob.
But if you regularly steam vegetables and want to become more adventurous with the type of food you steam cook, then an electric steam cooker is the perfect kitchen gadget.
Electric steam cookers are one of the more affordable kitchen gadgets you can buy. You can pick up a basic electric steamer for as little as £15, and it will create healthy, delicious meals.
Up the budget a little and you’ll get an advanced model with useful features such as a digital timer and variable cooking times, to make perfectly steamed food foolproof. Simply add the food and water to the steamer, set the timer or select a programme and leave the machine to do the work.
Knowing which features are worth paying extra for can help you choose the right electric steam cooker for you. This guide explains the key features you should consider when choosing the perfect model.
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What to consider when buying an electric steam cooker
With supermarket-brand models available from as little as £15 for an own-brand or budget model, buying an electric steamer won’t break the bank. Pay a little more and typically you’ll get more capacity and additional features such as a digital timer, a delayed-start option and a built-in rice cooker. Household names such as Morphy Richards and Salter have basic steamers starting at around £30, while more complex models retail for £70-£120.
Most electric steamers have three tiered containers with holes in the bottom for the steam to pass through. They can be used separately or in combination to provide enough capacity to cook an entire family meal and can even be rearranged during cooking to vary the temperature – though be careful to use a cloth or oven gloves when doing so to avoid steam burns. Some steamers have compartments with removable bases to create a taller steaming area for cooking larger items such as whole chickens.
Some electric steamers have different-sized containers that fit inside each other. This makes them compact for storage, but as you can’t swap them around during cooking, you’ll need to plan your timings in advance.
Many electric steamers have a 60-minute dial timer that you can turn to set your cooking time. More expensive steamers have digital timers and delay-start functions, which let you set the steamer to start working at a designated time later in the day.
Look for an electric steamer with a visible water gauge on the outside so you can be sure that you’ve filled it completely. Electric steamers rarely run out of water and many will beep if they do, so you can top up the water while they’re still on.
Some steam cookers have an external inlet so you top up the water during cooking without having to remove the cooking containers and risk scalding yourself.
Opt for a steam cooker with a keep-warm feature as this keeps your food at a safe temperature for up to an hour or two after cooking until you’re ready to eat. Some models switch to warm mode automatically after cooking has finished while with others you’ll need to set this function during cooking. Of course, you’ll need to ensure there’s enough water left in the steamer to take advantage of this feature.
Many kitchen gadgets are fiddly to clean and electric steamers are no exception. The best electric steam cookers not only steam food perfectly, they make clean up a priority. Look for a model with dishwasher-safe compartments and lids as well as a removable drip tray for easier cleaning.
More expensive steam cookers come with a rice bowl – a small steam dish that fits inside one of the steaming compartments so you can steam rice. It can take longer to cook rice this way but the end results are fluffy perfection.
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