Steamed Oriental-Style Chicken with Kale and Sticky Rice

I sent my husband to the grocery market to purchase rice and he returned home with a bamboo steamer. I certainly don’t need another “kitchen appliance.” However, since my husband was kind enough to run an errand for me, how could I ask him to return the bamboo steamer? Steaming vegetables and other foods is such a healthy way to cook things; I decided to give the bamboo steamer a trial run. Today I cooked “Steamed Oriental-Style Chicken with Kale” in the two layer steamer. I served it with sticky rice (also cooked in the steamer) and a simple dressing. It was an interesting experiment, really a meal-in-one, and my husband liked the resulting dish!

Although in traditional Thai cuisine, the sticky rice is molded into “silverware” for eating, I opted out of this adventure and served my dish with silverware.

I had to do a little research on bamboo steamers to figure out how to use this “kitchen appliance.” I typically associate bamboo steamers with oriental pot stickers, dumplings, dim sum dishes and dessert pastries. However, you can cook a wide variety of vegetables and meats as well. Bamboo steamers come in all diameters from small 6″ diameter steamers to large 12″ diameter steamers. (Mine has a 10″ diameter.) The steamers can be stacked at least 3 layers high (mine has 2 layers). And I discovered that there are stainless steel steamers, too, which function the same as the bamboo ones.

To cook with the bamboo steamer, you fill a large skillet or wok with one to two inches of water. The steamer must fit into the skillet or wok but the water must not reach the bottom layer of the steamer and the food. Fortunately, I have a very large skillet which is perfect for this task. If you are cooking a recipe which takes a long time — such as a hour — you will need to add additional boiling water to the skillet or wok so your steaming system doesn’t go dry.

I purchased some parchment-type perforated paper to place onto the bottom of each bamboo basket layer. Then the food lays on the perforated paper without coming into contact with the bamboo and the perforated holes allow the steam to reach the food. You can also use a small dish which fits inside the steamer but still lets the steam come up around the food. To clean up, simply wipe the bamboo basket and let it dry completely (so it doesn’t mold). (It does NOT go in the dishwasher.) Then re-assemble the bamboo steamer and store it somewhere in your kitchen.

For this recipe, I am using dinosaur kale growing in my garden. Although I already picked most of the kale, it regenerates itself, and I have enough for another cutting and recipe. I am thinking that the kale should steam well in my bamboo steamer.

To make this dish, I marinated boneless chicken breasts for several hours in an oriental-style marinate.

Then I placed kale on the top layer and the chicken on the bottom layer of the bamboo steamer and covered it with the lid provided as part of the steamer.

The bamboo steamer went over my skillet of boiling water. And my supper steamed away. Sort of a “meal-in-one.” The kale came off the stove half way through the cooking process.

Glutinous or “sticky rice”

The original recipe used for my recipe adaptation called for glutinous rice as part of the chicken/kale dish. I hadn’t seen this ingredient used in years — since my Chinese roommate made a dish called “Pork Congee” which used sticky rice. However, when we recently visited Boston, we ate at several Thai restaurants. All included “sticky rice” on their menus. So, apparently “sticky rice” is a popular food ingredient other cultural areas across America — just not our city!

Glutinous rice or “sticky rice” or sweet rice has a entirely different character than the long-grain rice which we are typically use in cooking here in Louisiana. Sticky rice has high amounts of amylopectin (a type of starch) and low amounts of amylose. Long grain rice has both components. Glutinous rice its got its name because it literally “sticks together” not because it contains gluten. This rice is grown mainly in Southeast and East Asia and is used in countless dishes in these countries.

Glutinous rice is cooked differently compared to long-grain rice. First, it should be soaked for up to 24 hours to remove the starch. The rice swells during this process and the soaking water turns milky white. The soaking liquid should be drained off prior to cooking. Secondly, the sticky rice is not boiled in water; rather the rice is steamed over water.

If you follow these two suggestions, then the resulting rice is still a little sticky; it is chewy but not crunchy. It has an every so slightly floral scent and is a delightful accompaniment to the chicken/kale meal.

My bamboo steamer did double duty as I also used it to cook the glutinous (or “sticky”) rice. And this turned out to be the best part. So, so simple. I just poured the soaked and rinsed rice onto the top bamboo “basket” layer and put this layer with lid back on the steamer. This steamed over boiling water for 15 minutes. The rice was done. And I cooked the rice last so it would be hot. Sicky rice quickly turns to hard rice if you allow it to become cold.

While the chicken and kale were steaming, I made a simple dressing to serve with the steamed chicken and kale.

To serve, remove the chicken from the steamer and slice it crosswise. Place the kale on plates and add a mound of rice. Top with the sliced chicken and the sauce. Sprinkle on green onions. And we ate this with a fork! Ode to being American!

This is an entire meal cooked in one process. The oriental-inspired chicken was juicy and tender — although I was disappointed that it seemed to lose the wonderful flavors of the marinade when cooked in the steamer. The chicken seemed crowded in the steamer — next time, I will probably cut the breasts into smaller pieces. The oriental sauce added back the flavors of the chicken marinade and the sauce worked well with both kale and chicken. Steaming turned out to be an easy way to cook both the kale and the rice. It’s a interesting process, for sure, and I am eager to try more recipes in my bamboo steamer.

Steamed Oriental-Style Chicken with Kale

  • Servings: 4 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients for the chicken, kale and rice:

  • 1 cup glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice or sweet rice)
  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 2 large raw, skinless and boneless chicken breasts (about 1-1/4 lb total wt)
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2  tsp grated ginger
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (or mirin sweet wine)
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 green onions, sliced

Ingredients for the dressing

  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar (NOT mirin sweet wine)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Instructions and Steps:

  1. Pre-prep rice: In medium-sized bowl, add glutinous rice and cover with several inches of water. Soak overnight. Stir occasionally. When ready to cook, drain water off rice. Briefly rinse. Water should drain clear.
  2. Carefully wash each individual kale leaf piece, drain. Chop or tear into medium-sized pieces, removing center rib. Set aside.
  3. If frozen, thaw chicken breasts, clean and pat dry.
  4. Make marinade: Combine chopped onion, soy sauce, brown sugar, grated ginger, rice vinegar (or mirin wine), fish sauce and lemon juice in a large ziplock bag.
  5. Add the chicken breasts to the ziplock bag and let marinate in refrigerator for an hour and up to overnight. Occasionally turn and redistribute marinade.
  6. Set up the bamboo steamer:  Add 1 to 2 inches of water to a large skillet or wok. Bamboo steamer should fit inside the skillet (or wok) but the water should not touch the bottom layer of the steamer.
  7. Add parchment paper to the bottom of each bamboo steamer layer. Remove chicken from ziplock bag and place on bottom layer along with marinade. Place kale on top layer and stack it on top of the chicken layer.
  8. Cover the top layer with lid making the “bamboo steamer.” Place steamer in prepared skillet. Bring water in skillet to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat so that the water in the skillet is gently boiling.
  9. Cook for 15 minutes, remove kale to a plate and tent kale to keep warm. Check chicken. If tender, and completely cooked through, remove also and cover to keep warm. Otherwise, keep on bottom layer of bamboo steamer.
  10. Place a new piece of parchment paper in top layer of bamboo steamer and add drained glutinous rice. Cover with bamboo lid and return to steamer.
  11. Cook for 10 minutes. Check chicken breasts for doneness. Remove chicken breasts and cover to keep warm. Cook rice an additional 10 to 20 minutes. Rice should be chewy but not crunchy.
  12. Meanwhile make dressing: Whisk together all the dressing ingredients: soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, canola oil, sesame seeds and sesame oil.
  13. To serve, divide kale among 4 plates. Add a mound of rice to the center of each plate. Slice chicken and divide evenly among the plates. Top with dressing and sprinkle on green onions.