“ Type: Steamer „
Some time ago I had an accident that resulted with limited use of my arms. Being someone that loved to cook and equally enjoyed entertaining
the limited strength in my arms ment handling heavy saucepans impossible. Then a friend recommended the Morphy Richards 48850 and my entertaining days were back on track. At first I was a little reluctant to try it but soon found that if there were just two of us in the house I could use one basket that would hold all our vegetables, more people more baskets. It is so light end easy to use that no strain is put on my arms. There is also an added advantage, apart from the self satisfaction of knowing it is a healthy way of cooking, but if you want to steam fish the steamer will sit in the utility room cooking my veg and fish at the same time without any fishy smells coming into the house. I have an elderly relative that suffers from arthritus, she had the same problem of limited strength in her arms and hands, using the steamer has given her the independance of not having to rely on others to cook her a main meal.
I had often considered having an electric steamer. Partly to save space on my cooker hob when I want to cook a lot of vegetables, and partly because steaming is considered one of the healthiest ways to cook: it adds no fat, but it doesn't reduce vitamins and minerals as much as boiling does. So when a guest offered to buy us a kitchen appliance, I chose a steamer.
Electric steamers all work on similar principles. A heating element at the bottom of the machine is filled with water, then covered with a drip tray. Over that a number of baskets are placed, either stainless steel or plastic, with small holes in the bottom a little like those of a colander. Food is placed inside one or more of the baskets, and a timer is set. No mess, no possiblity of it boiling over, and perfect vegetables at the end. Or so the theory goes.
I didn't read any reviews on steamers since I didn't expect to have a wide choice, so I was surprised to find five or six different possibilities, all between about £30 and £45. I was first tempted by a neat-looking Tefal steamer, which wouldn't take up too much space on my worktop; however our guest pointed out that with a family of four - and frequent visitors - we would be better off with rather larger baskets, and that three would be better than two. He suggested the Morphy Richards 48850 steamer which was labelled 'Healthsteam'.
There were samples of all the steamers on display so we took them apart to compare. They all had plastic baskets which felt a bit flimsy, and this bothered me somewhat. However the Morphy Richards version came with a two-year guarantee and it's a name we trust. When I discovered that it also had a good instruction guide and an interesting looking recipe book, I decided to opt for that one.
Putting it together was reasonably easy, once I realised that the baskets had to be stacked in a particular order. Eventually I spotted that the handles were labelled 'top', 'middle' and 'bottom', to make this easier! The bases are easily removable from the baskets, although a little awkward to fix back in place. The instruction guide was straightforward and clear, and while the recipe book didn't tell me how to steam different types of vegetables, it did give some delicious sounding healthy meals which could be cooked entirely (or almost so) in the steamer. It had not occurred to me that I could steam fish or chicken breast, but the booklet assured me I could.
To use the steamer, the base has to be filled with clean water, then the plastic funnel and the drip tray slot over it. On top of that the basket or baskets containing food are placed, then a lid goes on the top basket to contain the steam. Obviously if cooking meat or chicken, they need to be in the lowest basket, so raw juices do not drip over vegetables underneath! When steaming just one type of food, only the top basket should be used since the lid fits it.
The timer can be set for an hour at most; when it has finished the machine pings. In general this is sufficient for most steaming, but if more is needed then it's easy enough to set it for more time after the first hour. If so, then extra water must be added: there is a convenient slot in the side which means that it's easy to pour water in without having to disassemble a steaming hot appliance.
A few days after buying it, when I was still a little reluctant to try out anything other than simple steamed broccoli, I was forced to use the steamer to its limits. Here in Cyprus most ovens run on bottled gas, and I managed to run out. Not my fault: the last cylinder turned out to be empty when I changed it, but I had a hungry family waiting for their meal and no oven or hob to cook it on! So I used the steamer for potatoes and two types of vegetable - including frozen broad beans - while using the microwave for the main part of the meal. The kitchen was rather full of steam by the time the meal was ready, and it took a little longer than I had hoped for all the vegetables to be steamed to perfection, but overall we were very pleased with the result.
One of the features I particularly like is the ability to cook rice in the steamer. There's an oval-shaped plastic container without holes which was included in the set, which sits inside any of the baskets and which will easily cook easily enough rice for up to about six people. It's easy to do: the rice must be rinsed thoroughly, then put in the oval container with an equivalent volume of water. Steaming takes a little longer than cooking in a saucepan (about 25 minutes for white basmati rice, 45-50 for wholegrain rice) but it can't burn or run out of water, so there's no need to check it once it's switched on.
Another benefit is that steamed puddings can be cooked in the steamer. When I've used saucepans previously for Christmas puddings, I've always worried about the water boiling dry. However if I put too much water in, the puddings don't get hot enough and so don't turn dark brown. Making them with the steamer turned out to be very straightforward. I used two half-litre pyrex containers, having checked that they would fit into two of the steamer baskets, and tied greaseproof paper around the tops as usual. I filled the base of the steamer with water and set it for its maximum setting, one hour.
Then I left it alone until it 'pinged' after the first hour, at which point I poured more water in down the side opening and set it for another hour. I repeated this six times, then left it to cool down. Result: two delicious looking puddings which I then re-steamed in similar fashion for a couple of hours when we decided to eat them. This was much easier than having them on a crowded hob on Christmas Day, and there was no possibility of their boiling dry. I've made other sorts of steamed puddings in the steamer too, and find it very convenient if I'm cooking a Sunday roast: all I have to do is top up the water once or twice, and they cook without taking up any oven or hob space, and without needing any other attention.
I've had the steamer now for just over a year, and use it regularly. Despite its apparently flimsiness, it hasn't broken, which is encouraging. I must admit I haven't used it as much as I might, partly because it's quicker and easier to cook frozen vegetables in the microwave than in the steamer, and partly because I'm not very good at experimenting. Steaming takes a bit longer than either boiling or microwaving: fresh broccoli, for instance, needs at least fifteen minutes, more if the pieces are large. Potatoes can take up to forty-five minutes. However we've been very pleased with the results of steamed vegetables in general,as well as the rice and puddings. The only thing that has caused a slight problem is frozen peas: they cook well and taste fine, but tend to slide through the top unit into whatever is cooking below, and are difficult to move from the steamer to a serving dish.
Inevitably it takes a while to get used to any new appliance. Even now I still find it a bit awkward slotting the bases in place after washing up, although having removable bases certainly makes them easier to clean. I also occasionally catch my hand in the steam when removing the lid. I haven't scalded myself seriously (yet!) but if there were small children in the house I would keep it well out of their reach. The instructions say that the steamer must be left to cool down before draining the drip tray and cleaning it, but of course steamed food has to be served while still hot - and oven-gloves aren't all that helpful, since they become damp with the steam and then conduct heat.
Argos usually sell this for £24.99 but currently (December 2005) they have it on special offer at £14.99 - an excellent bargain. See http://www.argos.co.uk/static/Product/partNumber/4225458.htm
Amazon.co.uk also sell it, currently at £26.97.
Short name: Morphy Richards 48850