Microwave Silicone Steamer from Orka

International Home and Housewares Show 2008

Microwaves and silicone - these two things and certainly the combination of both were hardly likely to win our attention at the Housewares show. We've predicted that home cooks are past the honeymoon phase with silicone and until recently we really only used our microwave for defrosting chicken and melting butter.

But things have changed. Yesterday two illustrious kitchen figures - Mark Bittman and Harold McGee - sang the microwave's praises. We're wondering if we have overlooked our microwave's good qualities. Enter this Orka silicone steamer, which really impressed us at the show.

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If the microwave should be renamed the "whiz bang steaming oven" then this steamer should be known as the poor man's sous vide. The Orka Silicone Steamers are designed to help cut cooking time and also take away the rubbery, mushy effects that often come when you cook in the microwave.

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The process is simple. Put some vegetables or maybe some shrimp in the steamer. Drizzle with a bit of oil, if you want, and some salt and pepper. Cover with the lid and microwave. They include guides to recommended cooking times to take out even more of the guesswork.

The lid on these steamers creates a partial vacuum and helps the food cook gently in its own juices. The broccoli and cauliflower we tried were still crisp, yet tender, and full of flavor - not mushy and watery like some microwave-cooked food.

Orka makes these in several sizes, including a larger square Silicone Steamer that is large enough to steam chicken breasts. They can also go into low ovens, since they can withstand temperatures up to 425ºF and are dishwasher safe.

We wouldn't mind having a personal-sized version of this steamer around for quick, last-minute meals.

Orka 12-Ounce Blue Silicone Steamers, Set of 2, $24 at Amazon
Orka 20-oz. Personal Silicone Steamer, $13.49 at Amazon
Orka Gourmet 27-Ounce Round Steamer, $19.95 at Amazon