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Under Pressure

Posted By Jessica Harlan On July 8, 2008 @ 1:48 pm In Green Living | 1 Comment

I must admit that although I was excited when I first got my pressure cooker, it never quite found a home in my kitchen. I’d take it out to make the occasional pot of beans or beef bourguignon, but then I’d pack it back up in the box it came in, and stash it in my laundry closet.

But there are plenty of home cooks out there who are devout fans of pressure cookers, who swear that they can make tender beans in no time at all, or who can whip up a stew in 15 minutes that tastes like it’s been simmering all day long.

So I’ve officially unpacked the cooker and made room on my pot rack for it. And so far, I’m glad I did.

For one thing, pressure cookers really are faster than conventional cooking methods. Water boils at 212?F, but a pressure cooker, because pressure builds in the enclosed space, heats food and liquids to around 250?F. This means food cooks in about one-third the time that it would in a regular pot on the stove.

Experts also say that using a pressure cooker is one of the healthiest methods for cooking vegetables, since they are cooked quickly and in a way that helps them retain their nutrients, and since flavors are more intense, you need less salt or other flavor additions.

Learning how to use a pressure cooker gets a little getting used to. There are certain techniques for getting the machine up to pressure, for precisely timing the cooking duration, and for releasing the pressure. And all of the warnings in the instruction manuals or on Web sites about making sure to check the gasket every time you use it, or not overfilling the pot, might make a less-confident cook a little nervous (but fear not, today’s pressure cookers have safety mechanisms and have no chance of “exploding” like the cookers of our grandmothers’ generation).

But as with any cooking method, practice makes perfect. And there are plenty of resources available. Two of my favorites are MissVickie’s Guide to Modern Pressure Cookery [1], a Web site with a wealth of instructions, recipes and product recommendations, and Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Rick Rodgers, a cookbook with some really delicious, sophisticated recipes, and lots of great information on getting started with your cooker. Miss Vickie, a.k.a. Vickie Smith, also recently published a cookbook which distills a lot of the information on her Web site.

These days, I’m using my pressure cooker pretty much every week. While it does shave off cooking time significantly, you still have to peel and chop and for more flavorful results, it’s best to brown onions or sear meat before you put the lid on. And the very nature of the cooking method means that many of the dishes I’ve made so far all are pretty stewlike.

But armed with a few good cookbooks and some willing taste-testers (my family), I plan on seeing if I, too, can join the pressure-cooker cult. Speaking of which, if there are any pressure-cooker fans out there, feel free to chime in and tell us your favorite things to make in your cooker, or any tips for a pressure-cooking newbie!

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[1] MissVickie’s Guide to Modern Pressure Cookery: http://missvickie.com/

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