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June, 2011

Steam Heat

By Cheryl Forberg

Did you know that choosing the right cookware can actually lower the fat grams in your food?

Sounds crazy, but it’s true; well, sort of…….You see, a basic understanding of equipment choices combined with selection of cooking technique allows you to make some of your favorite recipes with less added fat. Before you know it, you’re on your way to “lean cuisine”!

Here’s how:
Dry and moist heat cooking methods are broad classifications that cover most cooking techniques. Dry heat methods use hot air or fat to transfer heat to food. These include baking, roasting, broiling, grilling, sautéing and deep fat frying. We’re obviously not going to discuss the deep frying method, since lean is our goal. But we will use all of the others, including sautéing, because this method can be a low fat option. Moist heat methods use water or liquid to transfer heat to food and the methods include steaming, poaching and boiling. There are a few tricks to make these lean methods extra flavorful, too.

Moist Heat
Moist cooking methods such as poaching, steaming and boiling use water for heat transference. A seasoned broth or liquid is often used as the medium instead of water to achieve a more flavorful result. For example, tender cuts of fish, chicken or meat are excellent choices for steaming and poaching. Pressure-cooking allows us to use tougher cuts of meat because the high pressure creates a tenderizing affect.

• Poaching – this method involves placement of a solid food item directly into water or another liquid, which may have seasonings, added to it. The item to be poached, such as a salmon filet or chicken breast is submerged in hot liquid and simmered just until cooked. The temperature is important here because if the water is heated above a simmer, the movement can cause delicate foods to toughen or lose their shape. The leftover liquid is often discarded (as with poached eggs). Other times it used to make a sauce (as with poached fruit or fish) Although there are specific pieces of equipment designed just for poaching fish or eggs, a shallow saucepan works very well.

• Pressure Cooking – this method incorporates boiling, and uses a special piece of equipment (pressure cooker) which is a heavy pot with a very secure fitting lid. This “pressure chamber” allows food to cook quickly and drastically reduces cooking time. The temperature in the chamber increases as the steam pressure builds. The pressure cooker works by cooking foods and liquid in a sealed pot at a temperature slightly higher than boiling. This intense pressure is what accelerates cooking time and tenderizes food.

• Steaming – allows placement of food in a metal or bamboo basket over water; allowing the steam to circulate around the food, thereby cooking it without submerging it in the liquid. Although water works well as a steaming liquid, you can also use fat free broths and seasonings to boost the flavor. Cooking “en papillote” means sealing the ingredients in a paper or foil packet, which traps both steam and flavor inside. Here's one of my favorite "en papillote" recipes

SALMON EN PAPILLOTE WITH TOMATOES AND FENNEL
SALMON EN PAPILLOTE WITH TOMATOES AND FENNEL

Cooking “en papillote” means sealing the ingredients in a paper or foil packet, which traps both steam and flavor inside. The packets can be assembled a few hours ahead of time and popped in the oven just before dinner. An equal weight of shrimp or scallops can also be used in place of the salmon.

Makes 4 servings

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered lengthwise, cored, and sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
4 salmon fillets (5 ounces each)
Fresh chives or scallion, for garnish
Lemon wedges

In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and onion and cook for about 4 minutes or until they’re just beginning to soften. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and basil and cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut off four 15 x 15-inch squares of parchment paper (see note). Fold a square of parchment in half to create a crease, and then open up. Place a fish fillet on one side of the crease. Repeat for the remaining fillets. Top each of the fillets with one-fourth of the veggie mixture. Fold the edges of the paper together and then tightly fold in the edges, crimping around all sides to seal the packets completely. Place the packets on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The fish should flake easily with a fork. Place each packet on a dinner plate. To serve, slit the packet with an “X” and fold back the paper. Sprinkle with chives and serve with lemon wedges.

Note: Parchment paper is available in most supermarkets. If you can’t find it, you can substitute aluminum foil squares.

Per serving: 260 calories, 10 g total fat (2 g saturated), 65 mg cholesterol, 95 mg sodium, 9 g total carbohydrates (2 g sugars), 3 g fiber, 33 g protein