Pressure cooker love

(This is the web elf. This article is one of the articles Maki instructed to post while she’s on the disabled list.)

pressurecookervalve.jpg

If there’s a kitchen appliance that needs a serious image makeover, it’s the pressure cooker. Old myths abound about how dangerous and scary it is to use. Horror tales linger from the olden days of exploding lids and contents getting stuck on the ceiling. I’m not even sure if those stories are acrophyal, but I do admit that I sort of believed them too.

But then I inherited a 20 plus year old pressure cooker a couple of years ago. It belonged to Martha, Max’s mom, and she used it all the time until she wasn’t able to cook any more. It seems that pressure cookers are as ubiquitous in Swiss kitchens as rice cookers are in Japanese ones. (Incidentally, pressure cookers are getting more and more popular in Japan too.) Martha used to use hers for everything from soups to cooking potatoes. After my initial fears, I’ve grown to absolutely love the cooker. And yes, even though it’s so old, after replacing the rubber gasket it works as good as new. (It really pays to buy from a reliable company that you can get replacement parts from on something they sold so long ago! For what it’s worth, it’s a Kuhn Rikon Duromatic. They still make them, with rather sleeker designs. If this old one ever breaks down I’m getting another Duromatic for sure.)

Reasons for owning a pressure cooker in the 21st century

  • It’s fast and efficient at what it does (No wonder it’s so popular in efficiency-minded Switzerland.)
  • It’s energy efficient, since it cooks things faster than conventional methods.
  • It’s a multi-tasker. Not only does it pressure-cook various things, a good quality pressure cooker pot has a nice heavy bottom which lends the pot itself to be used as a general cooking pot.
  • It’s perfect for cooking whole grains and pulses (beans and such), which we should be eating more of. More about this below.
  • It’s sort of high-tech, but it doesn’t do anything weird to the food, like apply microwaves to it or zap it with infrared rays.
  • There is a tiny element of danger, which focuses your attention and eliminates boredom in the kitchen. (Hey, there’s more danger in using a very sharp knife.)
  • It’s a geeky piece of kit that makes you feel like you’re conducting a science experiment.

The rules you must follow for using a pressure cooker

  • RTFM (Read The eh, Manual). Cooker model operation varies according to the model you have, so generic instructions shouldn’t be followed. Read the manual through and be sure you know how the pressure builds, and how to de-pressurize it.
  • Buy a good quality cooker, that you can trust not to break in operation. As my 20-plus year old cooker shows, a good quality pressure cooker will last for ages.
  • Don’t ever try to force a pressurized cooker open. I suspect that a lot of the exploding lid horror stories originated from stupid people who didn’t RTFM!

Every vegetarian should have one of these

As I stated above, a pressure cooker is the perfect appliance for cooking whole grains and pulses. So if you are a vegetarian or vegan who relies on these for your protein, or just someone looking to incorporate more vegetable proteins into your diet, a pressure cooker will be the hardest working appliance in your kitchen.

For example, I periodically cook up a potful of chickpeas and make a vat of hummus, which is then portioned and frozen. If I cooked them conventionally, it would take about 3 hours (depending on how long they’d soaked) for them to be soft enough. In a pressure cooker, chickpeas that have been soaked overnight take only 20 minutes! Even unsoaked chickpeas take only about 30 minutes. And they turn out totally soft, all the way through - no stray hard peas like I occasionally get with conventional boiling.

I also cook soy beans sometimes, to eat just plain boiled, or turned into natto. Soy beans take quite a long time to cook conventionally, longer than regular beans. In the pressure cooker, overnight-soaked beans only take 20 minutes or less. (Boiled soy beans have a very nice flavor, and the cooking liquid can be used as a vegetarian stock.)

Quinoa only takes 5 minutes! Lentils, maybe 10 minutes. And so on and on.

Cooking brown rice in a pressure cooker

pressurecookerbrice.jpg

Brown rice cooked in a pressure cooker turns out quite glutinous and ‘sticky’ in a good way. It’s not necessarily faster than long-soaking them and cooking in a rice cooker, but I rather prefer the texture of the rice when it’s been pressure cooked.

Put 2 cups of rinsed brown rice in a pressure cooker and add 2.5 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Let soak for an hour, then close the lid and bring up to pressure. Lower the heat and cook for about 25 minutes. Take off the heat and either allow the pressure to come down naturally or by releasing the pressure quickly, following the instructions in your cooker’s manual.

Brown rice cooked this way is the perfect texture for making brown rice onigiri successfully.

What about meat?

Most pressure cooker cookbooks put a lot of focus on cooking meat. A pressure cooker does tenderize meat as it cooks, making it all soft, which can be a good thing. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing. For instance, I pressure-cooked a chicken once, with the intention of making a chicken salad. The chicken was moist and cooked in about 30 minutes as opposed to the hour or more it takes me to poach chicken conventionally. But the texture of the meat was all wrong - it was mushy and soft, like a cheap canned chicken - not what I wanted at all. (The pressure also turned the bones into mush, so there were tiny splinters in the meat when it was shredded up that had to be taken out carefully.)

I think that the pressure cooker is best used on those tough, cheap cuts of beef and things, with enough fat and gelatinous bits in it. A combination of pressurized cooking and conventional simmering works very well with things like soups and stews. Max has a great recipe for a curried beef and potato soup that I will get him to post here eventually.

That being said though, I use my pressure cooker mainly for vegetarian cooking. (I rather believe that the plethora of mediocre-tasting meat dishes from a pressure cooker that pressure cooker cookbooks have traditionally focused on have contributed to it having a rather fuddy-duddy image.)

And in conclusion…

I hope that I’ve at least piqued your interest in pressure cookers, especially you vegetarians out there! Don’t be afraid of it - it really is a great hard working appliance.

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Yay for pressure cookers!

These devices are very popular in South Asia, and my mom had a huge, unwieldly one that was positively scary. I didn’t start to cook until I left home to go to college in the US (actually, only in graduate school) and I promptly bought an Indian-made Futura. I replaced it just last year with a Kuhn Rikon (Cook’s Illustrated rated the Spanish-made one higher, but I couldn’t locate one in CH). Anyway, I love my KR, especially for stews and soups.

Slight change of topic, but I would like to know your opinion of Dampfgarers — they’re really the rage in new kitchens here, and I’m wondering if there’s anything really special about them.

z | 14 March, 2008 - 14:36

Give the chicken another

Give the chicken another chance! I think you may have just overcooked it before. I make chicken soup in my pressure cooker (also a Kuhn Rikon) and the soup cooks in 25 minutes at high pressure. I use a 3-3.5 pound chicken and when it’s finished cooking, the meat falls away from the bones. The bones are in no way “mushy” and the chicken is a very good texture for chicken soup. Two large dishes for the price of one. :)

Sheri | 14 March, 2008 - 15:47

Soup under pressure

I bought a cheap pressure cooker last year, having seen Jamie Oliver make squash soup in 6 minutes (where it took me at least 30 to make it conventionally). Since then, I have used it most days for root veg soup of all kinds (average cooking time: 5 mins, including swede and leek, parsnip and apple, and even beetroot), veg curry (3 mins) and fish-and-veg curry, also 3 mins. As a child, I recall all my relatives using the cooker to make Irish stew, a dish I never really liked, largely due to the texture of the meat, and the inherent ‘plain-ness’ of the dish: the term ‘bland’ does not begin to describe its dullness! Anyway, for a gluten-free, non-meat eating cook, the pressure cooker is a life-saver, with the most wonderful home-made soups cooked in an instant. And while everyone fears explosions, I have yet to meet anyone who has suffered one…

Maeve | 14 March, 2008 - 18:48

Re: Soup under pressure

Would you be willing to share some of the soup recipes that you mentioned in your post?

anni ursi | 6 May, 2010 - 02:23

Re: Soup under pressure

5# Pumpkin
1 Onion,chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper, chopped
2-3 Cloves of Garlic, sliced, minced or mashed
2 cups Stock
1tsp Dry Basil
Salt + Pepper to taste a good amount
Olive Oil
3 oz Fried Cheese Cubes (Optional)

Boil the pumpkin to fork tender.
Saute the onion and bell pepper, with a
pinch of salt, in the oil in a heavy bottom pan
until they are translucent.
Add the garlic cook till fragrant.
Deglaze with stock add basil and the remainder
of the stock as well as the pumpkin peeled.
use a blender submergen works well here to puree
the pumpkin and vegetables. Serve warm with the
cheese as a garnish.

Caelo | 19 September, 2012 - 03:50

I don’t keep a pressure

I don’t keep a pressure cooker around since a crock pot serves a similar purpose for me. For me, it’s not the cook time that matters, but the time where I have to pay attention.

I grew up with Mom using a pressure cooker for all sorts of food. Mom didn’t swap to a crock pot until I was in my teens. I think her main motivator was my little brother is a very creative sort of accident prone, and crock pots are harder to screw up.

Emily | 14 March, 2008 - 19:35

guilty~

heh heh, i was one of those that was terrified of blowing up the kitchen! i recently bought one of those sleek pressure cookers and have yet to “break” into it. i’ll definitely try making brown rice with it this weekend =D

Shie | 15 March, 2008 - 04:09

I've been umming and arring about getting one of these for ages

A couple of weeks ago a Spanish friend made me one of the best meals I’ve ever had using one of these. It was a ‘potaje’ of pumpkin, chick peas, cannellini beans, green beans and pears.
Pressure cookers are used a lot in Spanish homes but I’ve always been too nervous to make the plunge and get my own.
I’m still licking my lips remembering the pear potaje, your article is probably the spur I need to get my own.

Loretta | 15 March, 2008 - 08:06

I’m really interested how

I’m really interested how you cook the chickpeas in the pressure cooker. With my own, I have the feeling, I don’t win time. Your cook’s time begin when the cooker is on the heat or when it’s on pressure?

Ptinutz | 22 March, 2008 - 09:49

The cooking time is for the

The cooking time is for the pressure time, so the total cooking time would be about +10 minutes (or whatever time it takes to build up the pressure). I do find that matching the size of your burner is quite important to fast pressure-building time - if you have the pressure cooker on a too-small burner, it will take a lot more time, but if you have it on a burner that’s big enough it will come to a boil and build up a lot faster.

maki | 22 March, 2008 - 10:00

Re: The cooking time is for the

One tip to build up pressure faster in a pressure cooker is to add already hot water to the grains (pulses, meat or whatever it is you're cooking) before closing it. I usually fill it with boiling water from a kettle, and pressure builds up in an couple minutes.

Beatriz | 6 January, 2011 - 18:07

One time I didn't RTFM. . .

Hi,

I did it. I admit it. In my early cooking days, I didn’t RTFM and set about filling my pressure cooker with lots of water and lentils. After awhile I heard a strange noise from the kitchen. The rocker (pressure regulator) had fallen to the floor and a gray geyser of liquid lentil mush was spewing through the main air vent and affixing itself to the ceiling. EGADS! I ducked down and ran over to turn the gas off, but didn’t dare touch the pot in any way. All I could do was watch it blow its load. What a mess. LOL.

After that, I RTFM.

Kim | 5 September, 2008 - 15:02

Re: Pressure cooker love

Thank you! I just made eddible rice for the first time!!

Jodie | 3 January, 2011 - 19:19

Re: Pressure cooker love

This also works well with a microwave pressure cooker with timer set for 20 minutes.

J C | 14 June, 2011 - 10:35

Re: Pressure cooker love

I don't have a pressure cooker (I should say "not yet"), but my mom used hers for ages. She got it from her mom when she married my dad. And it never blew up.
It's not a myth that pressure cookers can vlow up, but with todays pressure cookers it's almost impossible. Only the very old ones (from your great-grandparents or older) that don't have a relife valve could blow up.

But even if I don't have one, I love them. My mom made almost all vegetables in her pressure cooker and little me who didn't like anything green and healthy ate them, because they were so "cool" =)

cheshire_kitten | 8 July, 2012 - 12:14

Re: Pressure cooker love

I just have to tell you that, yes, the stories are true. I made the mistake of thinking all pressure cookers worked the same, and was very wrong. Thus, I ended up with a bot of beans all over the ceiling and a 2nd degree burn on most of my forearm. Lesson learned. Just because it looks like the one you grew up with does not mean it depressurizes the same way!

Channon Doughty | 29 May, 2013 - 23:12

Re: Pressure cooker love

Hi Makiko
I enjoyed reading your article about pressure cookers. Makes me want to use one. I wish I could convince my Japanese wife to use one (perhaps I could if your article was in Japanese). Didn't know what RTFM was until I Googled it :-))). I look forward to reading more of your website. All the best! Jim

James Moshides | 10 August, 2013 - 00:17

Re: Pressure cooker love

My mom who was Prussian used a pressure cooker to feed the 10 of us. They arrived in Canada after the war having lost everything and so we did not have a great deal of money. We bought everything in bulk 75# sacks of potatoes from the farmer my dad worked for when we arrived in Canada as well as 50# sacks of onions and carrots. From another Prussian we got eggs and the hens when they were too old to lay as well as the cuts of meat from her beef cattle and pigs which she did not like. Everything got cooked in her Presto (Made in Canada)pressure cooker. We still have and use that pressure cooker today with new seals and regulator which was lost with time. A new Presto stainless steel (8qt.) is still reasonably priced, made in America and attains the required 15psi for high pressure cooking. I still use mine at least once a week primarily to make beef and mature or laying hen chicken broth from the cheapest cuts of meat with lots of bones. It also makes fabulous split pea soup with your Christmas or Thanksgiving ham bones.

Otto von Ostrovo | 7 February, 2014 - 19:39

Re: Pressure cooker love

My mom who was Prussian used a pressure cooker to feed the 10 of us. They arrived in Canada after the war having lost everything and so we did not have a great deal of money. We bought everything in bulk 75# sacks of potatoes from the farmer my dad worked for when we arrived in Canada as well as 50# sacks of onions and carrots. From another Prussian we got eggs and the hens when they were too old to lay as well as the cuts of meat from her beef cattle and pigs which she did not like. Everything got cooked in her Presto (Made in Canada)pressure cooker. We still have and use that pressure cooker today with new seals and regulator which was lost with time. A new Presto stainless steel (8qt.) is still reasonably priced, made in America and attains the required 15psi for high pressure cooking. I still use mine at least once a week primarily to make beef and mature or laying hen chicken broth from the cheapest cuts of meat with lots of bones. It also makes fabulous split pea soup with your Christmas or Thanksgiving ham bones.

Otto von Ostrovo | 7 February, 2014 - 19:39

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