Cookstuff: Asian stove-top steamers

Using the right Asian steamer for a recipe can both simplify the cooking and noticeably improve the quality of a particular dish. Steamers are inexpensive and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

For a passionate cook, they're indispensable.

Thai rice steamers are generally available at Thai and Vietnamese markets, including Bangkok Market in Hollywood, Saigon Market in Lawndale and Vin Hoa in Long Beach, and are widely available online. Sizes vary, but prices generally range from $2 to $7 for the basket and $8 to $10 for the base. Asian stackable steamers are widely available at Asian markets and online. Prices vary depending on the material and number of layers, but generally range from $15 to $40.

The steamer at the top of the photo above is commonly called a Thai sticky rice steamer. It's a bamboo or reed conical basket that fits snugly on top of an aluminum steaming pot. The baskets and pots come in a variety of sizes but fit perfectly on a stove-top burner, steaming rice through all sides of the cone quickly, efficiently and thoroughly.

Tested side by side with rice cooked in a conventional stove-top steamer, there was no comparison: Rice from the Thai steamer was light, fluffy and perfectly cooked through; rice from the conventional steamer was overly moist and mushy in places, tough and underdone in others.

The second steamer in the photo above is a common Asian stackable steamer. It also comes in a variety of sizes and can be used to cook meat, fish, vegetables and more. The wide flat base is even perfect for steaming stove-top custards (such as a Thai coconut-egg custard). And with the stackable trays, multiple items can be steamed at one time.