Pros: Two steamer bowls, rice basket, handy food charts
Cons: Clean-up can be a pain, preparing an entire meal takes lots of trial and error
My husband and I were standing in a department store about three and a half years ago, registering for wedding gifts. He, scanner in hand, had just made a suggestion. How about a food steamer? Hmmmm, a food steamer. I wasn't sure I even knew what he meant. Then my future hubby proceeded to explain how his mother has one, uses it all the time, makes great veggies, etc. I have to admit that I was a little put off. Don't get me wrong, as a bargain shopper I value the advice and experiences of others. But as a soon-to-be-married gal, the last thing I wanted was to have to make dinners just like dear old mom did. Good sense overtook me, however, and we agreed to register for the Oster Food Steamer, model number 4711. It has been used consistently in our household ever since, and it is now one piece of equipment I would hate to do without.
What Do You Get?
Upon opening the Oster Food Steamer you'll find six oblong-shaped components, each of which I will describe here.
Water Reservoir Base--This white plastic base is the part of the steamer that is actually the electrical appliance. Just fill the reservoir with to the appropriate level (maximum or minimum, as indicated by the raised lines) with cold water, plug it in, and set the timer. Within one minute, an abundance of steam will be produced. The timer can be set for up to 60 minutes, and a bell will ding one time at the conclusion of the cooking period. An amber-colored indicator light will signal that the steamer is plugged in. (Note: Always make sure that you have plugged in the steamer. I am, unfortunately, guilty of setting the timer and going about my business, only to find that I haven't steamed a thing. The timer still runs, even when the steamer is not plugged in. Families tend to frown upon this rather silly delay in getting their dinners.)
Steamer Bowls--Two clear plastic steamer bowls are included. These large bowls hold three quarts of food each, and the bottom of each bowl is lined with holes to allow the steam to enter.
Drip Tray--This white plastic tray fits between the base and the steamer bowl. All condensation drips into this bowl, ensuring that only clean steam enters them.
Separator Ring--Required if you are using two steamer bowls at once, this white plastic ring acts as a divider between them.
Rice Bowl--Made to fit inside of the steamer bowls, the rice bowl is made of white plastic and has a capacity of five cups.
Steamer Lid--A clear plastic lid with a white plastic handle completes the steamer package. The lid is vented to allow steam to escape during cooking, so it is important that the steamer be placed away from walls and cupboard when in use (to prevent marks on the walls and the warping of cabinets). We are fortunate enough to have an island with an outlet on it in our kitchen now, but in the past we had to use the Oster Food Steamer on the kitchen table. When removing the lid be sure to wear oven mitts, because a blast of steam will greet you!
On to the Good Stuff...the Food!
Measuring 12" wide, 8" deep, and 14" high, this appliance can cook just about anything, from a single vegetable, to an entire meal, to dessert (yes, dessert!). All of these foods are prepared without the use of any cooking oils, so they are healthier for you. The instruction booklet includes detailed food charts that give information on suggested quantity of food, appropriate water level (maximum or minimum), approximate cooking time, and special notes (such as how often to turn ears of corn). I've included a sampling of foods that you'll find.
Fruits and Vegetables--You'll see everything from artichokes to squash. Cooking times vary from 7-12 minutes for broccoli to 45-50 minutes for artichokes. Frozen vegetables can also be steamed, and they do not have to be thawed first. What could be easier?
Meat and Poultry--Who would have thought to make meat in a steamer? Yes, it's here, from beef to sausage. The quickest meal is pork chops, at 5-10 minutes. Chicken drumsticks average 20-25 minutes. Meat and poultry must be completely thawed before steaming.
Rice/Grains--Whether it's instant or slow-cooking rice, you can use the Oster Food Steamer. Instant white rice is done in 10 minutes, regular brown rice requires 55-60 minutes.
Fish and Seafood--Limited time for cooking? Cod, haddock, and trout steam in only 5 minutes. Hungry for clams? They're only 10-20 minutes away. Seafood must be completely thawed before steaming.
Recipes--Here's where things get really interesting. Several recipes are included in the back of the instruction manual, offering suggestions for chicken dinners, seafood dinners, vegetables, desserts, and (get this!) quick breads and cakes! Each recipe includes prep time, cook time, an ingredient list, preparation instructions, cooking instructions, serving information, tips, and even a nutritional analysis. Several of them also include low (or lower) fat variations.
The Drudgery...Instructions for Cleaning and Descaling
Hot soapy water is all that is needed to clean the Oster Food Steamer. The base should not be immersed, but you should pour the soapy water into the reservoir and then rinse it. All parts except for the base can be put in the dishwasher, although Oster does warn that doing so may cause the plastic to look more dull.
Depending on the hardness of your water, it is recommended that you descale the base every two to three months in order to remove chemical deposits. The procedure is easy: just put three cups of clear vinegar into the base, steam it for 20-25 minutes, and then rinse several times with cold water. Last night, when I was talking to my husband about this review, I asked him if he remembered descaling our steamer recently...let's just say that I'm heading out to the store for some vinegar shortly!
The Oster Food Steamer is subject to a two year limited warranty.
Notes from a Steamer Addict
This steamer is used once a week minimum in our kitchen. I have used it to make a variety of vegetables: asparagus, green beans, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, and squash. We have also used it a few times for steaming rice, chicken, and fish. I haven't tried any of those desserts or breads yet...maybe someday when I have some spare time. With a 5 month old in the house, I'm not sure exactly when that'll be!
Anyone who is interested in trying to cook in a more healthy manner will find this appliance to be an invaluable tool. Making vegetables has never been easier for me, and I enjoy the fact that it is easy to cook them to the desired level of "doneness." When they are fully cooked you can season the vegetables in any way you like, or not at all. I like the fact that steaming seals in all of those vital nutrients.
Using both baskets at the same time takes a lot of practice and experimentation. Different foods require different cooking times, so you have to plan things well in order for dinner to come out just right. My husband and I have made complete dinners in the Oster Food Steamer, but we wouldn't try to do it if we were having guests. For me, it's just easier to make the veggies in the steamer, rice in the microwave, and meat in the oven. At the same time, though, it's nice to have the option, and the recipes, to do otherwise. My mother-in law's steamer has only one basket, so I find the Oster Food Steamer to be a superior value. Even if you never use both baskets at once, at least you have a spare basket in the event that you should accidentally crack the plastic on the other.
Some foods, such as broccoli and fish, do make for difficult clean-up. Even after soaking the parts in hot soapy water, we're often hunting down the toothpicks so we can try to get food out from all those little holes in the bottoms of the steamer baskets.
After three years of consistent use, this steamer is as good as new. The menu variations that you can whip up with this handy appliance are limitless, and as you gain more experience you will find yourself trying more and more things. My little instruction book is now dog-eared from my referring to the wonderfully helpful food charts again and again. Unlike some small appliances which end up being fodder for yard sales, the Oster Food Steamer will be an asset to your kitchen for years to come.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a steamer to descale!