Monday, October 4, 2010

Blast from the Past: Pressure Cooking


I know, I say “pressure cooker” and you think (1) dangerous explosions, and/or (2) gray, flabby, over-cooked food.

It’s true, I witnessed a spectacular pressure cooker explosion back in 1968. Aunt Dee left me and my cousin Judy home alone, with vague instructions to “watch the pressure cooker”.

What’s to watch? We watched cartoons instead. Two hours later the pressure cooker went “BOOM”! We ran into the kitchen to find it had blown its lid, bashing a cantaloupe-sized hole in the ceiling and splattering green beans all over the walls.

Judy & I were in deep doo-doo for that one.

So I never considered trying a pressure cooker myself, until I moved up here to the high mountain desert. At 7,000 feet we have some unusual cooking “challenges” – my worst one being that I couldn’t cook beans. Seriously! I could not make a decent pot of beans up here.

My neighbors all advised pressure cooking to solve the high-altitude bean problem. And that’s when I discovered that “modern” pressure cookers are vastly improved over my Aunt Dee’s mid-century model. They’re electric, they’re digital, and they promise explosion-proof operation.

CuisinartPressureCookerOkay … I decided to try pressure cooking.

After reading the reviews I purchased a Cuisinart CPC-600 1000-Watt 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker, shown here.

I’ve used it for almost a year now. And I have to say, this was probably my best purchase of 2010.



Top 5 Reasons to ♥ Electric Pressure Cookers

1. Dang, they’re fast! I’m talking 10-minute potato soup (although that project did make milk come out its nose), or a 40-minute brisket for 8.

2. They’re programmable. Punch in your settings and walk away (cartoons, anyone?). You don’t have to “watch” them, or adjust the heat, or anything. When the cooking cycle ends, they’ll automatically switch over to Keep Warm mode.

3. Yes, a pressure cooker IS the best way to cook beans. No, repeat NO, pre-soaking needed. And you can season the beans during cooking, even add a little salt, and they’ll STILL cook up beautifully.

4. They don’t heat up the kitchen. This past summer was the hottest of the century, so I really, really appreciated not having to turn on the oven, or even the stove burners, for weeks on end.

5. They don’t use a lot of juice. It’s about the same wattage as a hair dryer, and the actual cooking time is short, so the energy consumption is way less than a standard oven, or even a slow cooker.

Plus there are serendipitous benefits. For example, I’ve discovered that my electric pressure cooker makes the best stocks imaginable – chicken, beef, pork, vegetable, whatever. And it’s now my go-to method for ribs: cook ‘em with pressure, finish them on the grill.

Best Pressure Cooker Cookbooks

I’ve since acquired a number of pressure cooker cookbooks, and of them all I recommend two to get you started:

pressurecookergourmetVictoria Wise’s Pressure Cooker Gourmet

From the first chef at Chez Panisse, this book is all you need to convince unbelievers that you can cook delicious food in a pressure cooker. (I started with her Brined Pork Roast & Figs, a revelation.)

This one’s also available in a Kindle edition.




Any of Lorna Sass’s pressure cooking cookbooks are great to have on hand, but I especially like her Pressure Perfect: Two Hour Taste in Twenty Minutes Using Your Pressure Cooker. Her substitution charts are pure gold when it’s time to convert your favorite traditional recipes to the pressure cooker.


Bon appetit!

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Sandia Park, NM