Technique: Steam-frying

After mentioning it in the last post, I thought I’d do a short post on a very useful cooking technique: steam-frying. Growing up, I never heard it called anything but “frying”, but that term covers a lot of ground. A local Chinese restaurant actually gave me the more specific term “steam-frying”, but whatever you call it, it’s indispensable in Appalachian cooking.

A good description from Practically Edible:

Steam Frying is a Chinese method of cooking which combines both frying and steaming. Just enough frying happens to give the surface area of the food some interest, though most of the cooking is done by steam.

Steam Frying is best done in a non-stick frying pan. You start by heating a small amount of oil, usually just a few tablespoons. When the fat is hot, you add the items you are steam-frying, and sauté them for a few minutes, but when they start to sizzle, you then add a liquid. It mustn’t be so much liquid that you end up stewing or braising instead.

You then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid so the steam gets trapped. If the liquid all evaporates before the food item is cooked, add a bit more liquid, put the cover back on, and continue cooking. When the items are cooked, remove the lid, and let all remaining liquid cook away, and allow the food items to turn a bit golden, if they haven’t already.

Some North Americans now define it as frying without oil or fat, but the Chinese, who invented the technique, don’t, though it certainly is a “lower-fat” way of cooking. . .

Also called: Frittura a vapore (Italian)

The Chinese were not the only ones to have invented that cooking method; you’ll see a lot of vegetables cooked that way in the collections of Cherokee recipes in the sidebar, and from what I’ve seen it’s used a lot around the Mediterranean (and probably elsewhere). It’s also very similar to Cajun smothering.

You’ll be seeing this vegetable cooking method used a lot here. 🙂


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