Steaming your tempeh is the game-changing kitchen hack to remove tempeh's bitterness and enhance it's flavor. Read on to learn just how it's done!
Tempeh is a vegan kitchen essential as far as I'm concerned. But I know that not everyone would agree. Tempeh, unlike trusty old tofu, can be a bit polarizing due to it's distinctive, bitter flavor.
Steaming your tempeh is the trick to remove that bitterness, leaving you with a cleaner, nutty flavor. Tempeh that's been steamed is excellent for soaking up flavorful marinades, crumbling in chili or dicing up and adding to a stir-fry.
What is Tempeh?
Let's back up. Is tempeh a new ingredient for you? Tempeh is an Indonesian soy product. It's made by fermenting whole soybeans in a large block. You can learn how tempeh is made in detail by reading this tutorial on how to make tempeh.
Tempeh has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, and for good reason! It's loaded with plant-protein, fiber, and probiotics. It's also super versatile and can be used in so many different types of dishes. Try some tempeh chili, tempeh tacos, or tempeh stir-fry if you're looking for a beginner's level recipe.
So there's lots to love about tempeh! But maybe you don't love the flavor so much. We can fix that, with steaming!
Why Steam Tempeh?
Steaming tempeh isn't really a cooking method in and of itself. If you just steamed your tempeh and did nothing else, it would taste pretty bad. Steaming is something you'll want to do before cooking with tempeh. Think of it as a prep step.
There are a couple of reasons you might want to include this step in your kitchen workflow.
Steaming your tempeh mellows that bitter flavor we talked about. The bitter flavor comes from by-products of fermentation. If you cook with a lot of tempeh you may even find that older blocks of tempeh that have been hanging out in the fridge for a while have even more bitterness than newer ones. This is because they've continued to slowly ferment over time.
Steaming tempeh will remove some of those by-products, giving it a more neutral flavor. This is great if you find the flavor off-putting, but it also helps in recipes where you want to let other flavors shine.
Steaming your tempeh will soften it up a bit, giving it a more pleasant texture to some, but also making it easier to chop, slice, and crumble for use in recipes.
How to Steam Tempeh
The process of steaming tempeh isn't a super fussy one, which means you have plenty of options as to how it's done. For our purposes, we're sticking with a basic stove-top steam, but see below if you're looking for a shortcut method.
1. Prepare Your Tempeh
Make sure you're starting with a fresh block of tempeh. Tempeh is, by definition, made from mold, but the mold should ideally be white and compact. Small bits of grey mold can be cut off, but if it's excessively grey and/or fuzzy, ditch it.
You can steam your entire block of tempeh if you'd like, or cut it into whatever shape your recipe calls for. If you steam the whole block you'll probably want to add a few minutes to the time in the steamer.
2. Prepare Your Steaming Apparatus
Use whatever you normally use to steam other ingredients like vegetables. A simple steamer basket is the most basic and affordable option, but if you've got a bamboo steamer, feel free to use that instead.
A smaller steaming device like a steamer basket may require that you cut your tempeh block into smaller pieces, like cubes.
A larger device such as a bamboo steamer can allow you to steam an entire block of tempeh (or a few of them!).
For a cooking vessel, you'll want an appropriately sized saucepan if you're using a steamer basket, or a wok if using a bamboo steamer. Add water to your vessel, keeping the water line below where the bottom of your steamer will hit. One or two inches of water is generally a good amount.
Place your cooking vessel over high heat. You're going to bring the water to a boil.
While the water heats up, arrange your tempeh in the steamer. Where you place it isn't critical, bit if you've got a bunch of pieces it's a good idea to space them out.
Once the water boils, lower your steamer into the wok or saucepan and cover it. Lower the heat so that the water is at a simmer. Steam the tempeh for 10 to 15 minutes. I recommend steaming small pieces for 10 minutes, and a large block for closer to 15.
Carefully remove the steamed tempeh from your steamer when it's done. Let it cool before handing it or adding it to a recipe.
Tip: Short on time? Use this quick method to steam your tempeh: wrap it in a wet paper towel, place it on a microwave safe dish, and zap it for four minutes. You won't get as much bitterness out as with a longer steam on the stove, but it'll do the job in a pinch.
How to Use Steamed Tempeh
It may be tempting to enjoy your steamed tempeh right away. Please don't. It'll be terrible.
Steamed tempeh is meant to be used in a recipe. Fry it, marinate it, bake it, or crumble it up and add it to a sauce. Do any combination of these things! Just incorporate it into a recipe like you would any other non-steamed tempeh. That is it.