Water Vapor: Steaming

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Steaming is by far the fastest method for pouring heat into food, thanks to the large amount of energy that water vapor releases when it condenses into droplets on the food surface. However, it works rapidly only as long as the meat surface is cooler than the boiling point. Because heat moves through meat more slowly than steam deposits it on the surface, heat accumulates at the surface, which soon reaches the boiling point, and the heat transfer rate falls to a level just sufficient to keep the surface at the boil. Though it heats meat by means of moisture, steaming does not guarantee moist meat. Muscle fibers heated to the boiling point shrink and squeeze out much of their moisture, and the steamy atmosphere can’t replace it.