Hollywood foodie Gwyneth Paltrow says a food steamer is her kitchen must have. We concur. So go on, get steamy and fresh in your kitchen! Here is a How To on all things Steaming…

Many foodies and healthy eaters are quick to advocate one cooking technique above the rest – the simple practice of steaming.

From a health perspective, steaming is the next best thing to eating raw foods. It’s considered the method that least ‘lets out’ precious minerals and vitamins in the cooking process.

And steaming is also one of the easiest ways to make the most of the fragrant flavours from special ingredients.

Steaming is a celebrated method of cooking around the world and various cultures have different and unique techniques.

The Southern Indian town of Kerala, for example, is known for steaming the majority of its breakfast foods such as the classic ‘idli’ or ‘idiyappam’ that cooks rice and Indian spices to perfection.

Celebrity chef Mario Batali and Hollywood foodie Gwyneth Paltrow consider their steamers an essential kitchen gadget.

And in Malaysia, steaming is used for speciality street foods and many traditional dishes and desserts.

Malaysia is at the crossroads of Asia and the nation’s cuisine includes broad influences from China, India, the Middle East and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. The cuisine is a delicious potpourri of different flavours and aromas from these and other cultures.

Malaysian chefs agree that steaming is the best way to make the most of the fragrant and flavoursome ingredients common in Malaysian dishes such as lemongrass, turmeric, coconut and kaffir lime leaves.

The majority of Malaysian desserts are steamed. Steaming famous sweet Malaysian cakes such as Kuih talam (a layered coconut pudding) expertly binds together the flavours of ingredients such as rice flour, sago flour, coconut milk and pandan leaves.

And for the drier traditional Malaysian dessert pulut inti, glutinous rice, palm sugar and freshly grated coconut are wrapped carefully in a banana leaf before the steaming process begins.

Steaming is also advocated by Malaysian chefs because it is so simple to do. Steaming requires a key piece of equipment – a steamer, whether bamboo or melamine – that can be picked up from anywhere selling kitchen equipment. And the process can be done over any type of high heat or flame.

Steaming traps evaporation from boiling water underneath the raw food to heat and cook the dish – most importantly binding together key flavours under the one lid.

One of the most famous steamed Malaysian dishes is Otak Otak. A dumpling of sorts, Otak Otak is made with blended fresh seafood and fragrant spices which are formed into a cake mould, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, preferably in a bamboo steamer.

Malaysian Culinary Ambassador and celebrity chef, Chef Wan, shares his version of Otak Otak:

Otak Otak Kukus: Steamed Fish Mousse in Banana Leaf, by Chef Wan

500g boneless fillet Spanish mackerel (can be substituted with any white fish)
4 fresh long red chillies, halved
3 shallots
2cm piece fresh turmeric
2 lemongrass stalks, thinly sliced
2cm young ginger, diced
4 candlenuts (available at Asian food markets)
1 large clove garlic
Juice of 1 lime
1 small fresh turmeric leaf, chiffonade
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup coconut cream
10 pieces of banana leaf the size of an A4 page, gently heated over a naked flame to soften (available in the frozen section of Asian food markets)

1. Chop the fish fillet very finely to form a paste and place in a bowl.
2. In a mortar and pestle, pound chillies to a pulp. Add shallots, turmeric, lemongrass, candlenuts, ginger and garlic and pound into a fine paste.
3. Add this paste to the fish with turmeric leaf, salt, sugar and coconut cream, mixing well to combine to create a mousse.
4. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the mousse on to each sheet of banana leaf and fold the individual leaf up to make a parcel.
5. Place the parcels in a hot steamer for 15 minutes until cooked through. Serve warm, accompanied by freshly cooked rice.

About The Malaysia Kitchen Programme for New Zealand:
The Malaysia Kitchen Programme celebrates the heritage and cultural diversity of Malaysian cuisine, from authentic traditional delicacies to complex gourmet fusions of subtle flavours and rich spices. Malaysian cuisine is a blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian food traditions which make up the fascinating interplay of delicious flavours. The Malaysia Kitchen Programme promotes Malaysian restaurants in New Zealand and encourages Kiwis to try Malaysian cuisine. It features a series of exciting epicurean activities and events to engage and delight the taste buds.  The programme is initiated by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE). There are more than 45 Malaysian restaurants in New Zealand, 25 in Auckland and 20 in Wellington.

For more information visit: http://www.malaysiakitchen.co.nz/

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