There are several good reasons to own a set of stacked bamboo steamers. The bamboo absorbs steam, so water droplets don’t condense on the lid and drop onto the food, especially important when you’re making the Chinese pork buns, since those droplets would make the dough soggy. Also, foods cooked in the steamer will pick up a delicate woodsy aroma from the bamboo (especially delicious with a mild fish, like the Steamed Black Cod with Scallions and Rice Wine here. And they’re surprisingly sturdy too; our cooking class teacher, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, has had hers for almost 20 years. She air-dries them completely after using and then stores them in plastic bags.
To keep the steamer clean, line it with cabbage or banana leaves, parchment paper (Eileen cooks the buns on parchment squares), or a heatproof plate before adding the food. Bring a few inches of water to a rolling boil in a wok or wide sauté pan and set the steamer over—not in—the water. Then cover and cook as directed.