If you’re anything like I used to be, you equate pressure cookers with the 1950’s and a fear of getting hit in the face with scalding steam and a hot lid. I hear it all the time; “I have a pressure cooker, but I’m scared to death to use it.” Fear not, my friends! Nowadays pressure cookers have been built with safety features to assure ease of use without scalding, or sky-rocketing lids. There is definitely a learning curve as it’s a different way of cooking, but once you experiment and get a feel for it, you’ll wonder how you ever went without!
For those who don’t know, pressure cooking is a method which uses water to create steam that does not escape the vessel while the food is being cooked. A fraction of the water is used compared to other methods. Since there is less water to heat, it takes less time for the water/food to reach cooking temperature. As well, due to the intense pressure and heat, items cook faster than simply steaming, boiling or braising. And they are easy to use – put your food in the pan, lock the lid in place, turn on the heat, wait until it comes up to pressure, turn down heat and wait. The units are available in electric and stove top versions, and while some steps differ slightly between the two, the concept is the same. Some dishes such, as green veggies, require you to let the steam out manually, which simply means pressing the valve and allowing steam to flow. Others, like beans and grains, call for natural pressure release, which means you don’t do anything but wait until all the steam has slowly escaped on it’s own. If you aren’t yet sold on the beauty of a pressure cooker, let me share some other benefits with you:
TOP 5 REASONS TO USE A PRESSURE COOKER:
- Time savings – “I don’t have time” is the most common reason I hear for why people don’t prepare more of their own meals at home. Well, a pressure cooker can help! Example: brown rice would normally take about 40-45 minutes when boiled. Using a pressure cooker it will cook in half the time. Garbanzo beans take 14 minutes of cook time (not excluding the time it takes to come up to pressure, and release naturally).
- Nutrient retention - Since the food is exposed to heat for a shorter period of time, fewer nutrients are lost in cooking. As well, vitamins and minerals are not whisked away by water since there is so much less of it.
- Energy savings – Thanks to shorter cooking times, the fire and/or electricity are used less.
- No stirring required – If you’ve ever made risotto you know what a drag it can be, stirring and stirring and stirring. You can make arborio rice risotto in the pressure cooker, at 5 minutes high pressure, without having ever lifted a spoon. How cool is that?
- Less water - water is a precious resource that is not as abundant as it once was, especially here in Southern California. The less water we can use in every aspect of life, the better.
Some typical dishes for which I use my pressure cooker:
Steel cut oats
Beans, chilis and stews
Whole grains such as rice and quinoa
Sweet and white potatoes
Kale and other greens
So basically, pressure cookers are awesome. They can be used for anything you’d boil, steam or braise. The tricky part is converting a recipe and figuring out how much liquid to use. It just takes some experimenting. In the meantime I wanted to share this yummy recipe with you for Butternut Squash Risotto using brown rice. Easy and so delicious, without the constant stirring typical risotto calls for. Also, a wonderful cookbook for pressure cooking is The New Fast Food by Jill Nussinow. Invaluable, really. Have fun cooking under pressure, and I hope you enjoy this dish!