Cooking under pressure

Cooking under pressure

One of the handiest cooking vessels in my kitchen is my pressure cooker. It gets a lot of use. I use it on average a couple of times a week. Things that take a lot of time such as beans, grains like rice, barley
or buckwheat, tough cuts of meat, stews and soups all get the pressure cooker treatment.

Ham hock and bean soup, starting with dried beans, on the table in an hour! Under an hour for braised lamb shanks with a Port wine reduction sauce. Artichokes cook in six to eight minutes at pressure. With the optional glass lid, it gets used as a stock pot to cook spaghetti and long noodles. Fast, efficient and versatile, my pressure cooker gets a lot of use.

Pressure cookers are under-appreciated these days in America. It wasn’t always so. Many of us grew up to the jiggling sound of the pressure regulator on our mother’s pressure cookers.

Two things happened. Accidents and the primitive designs of the earlier pressure cookers gave them a reputation of being difficult to use or dangerous. The stories of food being shot up onto the ceiling didn’t help. The second problem was a move to prepared foods and away from cooking your own food.

Times have changed.

The new pressure cookers have better pressure regulators that are easier and quieter to use and the cookers have multiple safety features to prevent overpressure and are very safe. No more food on the ceiling.

The one area that can cause problems is failure to heed the warning about overfilling the pressure cooker. The pressure cooker requires space for the steam so the pressure cooker cannot be overfilled. The amount of space required depends partially on what you are cooking. Generally the pressure cooker should only be filled to three quarters full. If you are cooking something that can foam up, fill it only half full at maximum to keep any foam away from the pressure valve.

This brings me to my first recommendation. Buy a much larger pressure cooker than you think you will need. A ten quart pressure cooker is the smallest I would suggest getting. You can always do smallwer portions in a big pressure cooker, but you cannot safely overfill a smaller pressure cooker.

The pressure cooker can be much more with a few accessories. A trivet will allow you to steam or steam under pressure. Steaming under pressure cooks much faster than plain steaming.

With a trivet, you can add a tall steel bowl that will sit on top of it. This will allow you to use the pot in pot method to cook beans and grains much more easily and quickly. You add the grains or beans to the pot along with the necessary water. Since you only need to boil the water in the bottom of the pressure cooker, not all the water with the grain or beans, it comes to pressure and temperature much more quickly than other cooking methods. Add in the fact that the grains or beans cook more quickly at the higher temperatures under pressure means much less time. The pot in pot method has a real advantage withn cooking rice. No more figuring out how much water and how long to cook the rice. Just a ratio of water to rice and a fixed cooking time no matter how much or little rice you are cooking.

Another advantage to using a pressure cooker is that once at pressure the heat can be reduced to only what is needed to keep the pressure. This means a cooler kitchen and reduced energy use. Paired with an induction burner, pressure cooking is very efficient as well as fast.

Pressure cookers come with either a single or dual pressure settings. The dual settings allow a lower pressure to cook more delicate foods and allow longer cooking times for foods with very short cooking times making it easier to get the cooking time right.

The final recommendation is to get the optional glass lid to allow the pressure cooker to be used as a stock pot. A spare gasket is also a worthwhile investment. They are reasonably durable, but do wear or tear and cause problems at the most inopportune time.

Take the pressure off you and put it on the food with a pressure cooker.

Happy cooking.

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