Sep 07

New toy time! Cooking under pressure!

The new pressure cooker

I be lovin this new toy

I love it when the brown truck arrives with new toys!  I decided to splurge on the ‘Mercedes of pressure cookers’ – the Kuhn-Rikon Duromatic Top pressure cooker.  With cooler weather on the way, our tastes in evening meals skews to hearty stew-y concoctions, which leaves us with two choices – do our meal planning in advance so I can prepare in the morning and slow cook all day (rarely happens), or spend a weekend cooking and stashing dinners away in the fridge or freezer for later eating (happens more often).  Since we’re lucky enough to work from home, either approach works, but usually, we have no idea what we want to eat until sometime in the afternoon.  Enter the pressure cooker!


Pressure cookers are amazing devices – because moisture doesn’t escape, you cook with less liquid.  The pressure that builds up in the pot raises the boiling point of the water in side, so you cook faster that a stovetop normally would.  If you’ve ever tried cooking dried beans at home, you know that you face a couple of hours of cooking to get nice, tender beans.  For my first potful, I made some black-eyed peas and rice with a ham shank.  I don’t like the rice to turn to mush, so I cooked the beans first.  It took 20 – yes 20 minutes – once the cooker got up to pressure.  If I include sauteeing the onions and carrots, adding beans, water and ham shank and getting it all to a simmer, figure about 30 minutes.  Seriously. Brown rice took another 15. Mix it together, and dinner’s done before the evening news is over without using (IMO) oversalted canned beans, and waiting for the rice cooker to finish its job.

So, is a pressure cooker a goodie, or a must have?  It depends.  They can be expensive – I got this 7 quart cooker online at Amazon for about $190, but there are good quality pressure cookers for much less.  If time is the major factor in preventing you from cooking your own meals, I’d lean toward the must have.  It gives you almost microwave speed, without the taste and texture compromises that happen with the great irradiating box. It beats a slow cooker (again, IMO) in the flavor department because you can quickly brown meat or aromatic vegetables before cooking. You use a lot less energy – I had my electric stove set slightly above its lowest setting, and the pressure stayed level. You can save money by using cheap cuts of meat (which are also VERY tasty), and have a tender, juicy result. So, if you’re busy,on a budget,and trying to get out of the high fat- high salt ready made meal rut, a pressure cooker may not be an absolute essential, but it’s high on the list of should haves.

There is quite  range of pressure cookers out there, and they’re all good.  There are a couple of things I personally recommend you get when you’re shopping for a cooker.  First – get a good sized one.  I just got a 7 quart pot, and that’s a great size.  It’ll fit a pot roast, a chicken, a nice sized batch of stew. You can take the bones from a roast chicken and make a nice pot of stock out of it, or cook a pair of artichokes.  It’s big enough, but not so massive that you’re going to struggle to find shelf space for it.

That said, I think of this as an addition to a basic set of cookware, rather than a first essential.  That’s because there’s a bit of a learning curve, and and if you’re already comfortable with the basics, it’s an easy method to learn.  Because there’s no stirring, and no opening the lid until it’s done, and the pressure reduces to normal, a little confidence in your cooking abilities is helpful. Which leads me to the last note – it’s a piece of cookware that you will spend a couple of cooking sessions learning – you’ll get to know what temperature setting on your stove will keep the pressure level at the right point, so you don’t have to stand there, watching the pot for the full cooking time.So how do you choose which one to get? The first choice is material.  The least expensive versions are all aluminum, but I’m not crazy about non-anodized aluminum cookware, especially in pots where you’re going to be cooking with acidic ingredients like wine or tomatoes.  That leaves stainless steel, and those start at just under $50 for a 6 quart Presto pressure cooker. Hey, you yell, you told me you just paid almost 200 bucks for yours, what’s the diff?  It’s all in the pressure valve system.  Less expensive pressure cookers have a little weight that sits on top of a stem on the lid.  When it comes up to pressure, it hisses and jiggles.  If your grandma had one, that’s probably what you remember. Newer, more expensive designs have a spring loaded pressure valve that acts as a gauge – when it gets to the pressure you want, you turn down the heat. No hissing, no steam.

There are some details that you should keep in mind with a pressure cooker – even though some stainless steel units say they’re dishwasher safe, the gasket in the lid isn’t.  And that gasket is something you will eventually have to replace.  Like any part that wears, it depends on how much you use it, and how well you care for it.  And yes, you can blow it  – leave that pot on the stove at too high a temperature, and the gasket will blow to release the pressure in the pot. Some units require that the valve be disassembled and cleaned regularly, some (like the pricey Kuhn-Rikon) only need to be cleaned out if you overfill it and push cooking liquid through the valve.

If you’re interested in exploring more about using a pressure cooker, I heartily recommend Hip Pressure Cooking – it’s a great website with a lot of interesting recipes to get you started!

Cook up a response!