Ode to a Pressure Cooker

I just started following the Food Network on Google+ (I have to follow someone–The place is like a ghost town in terms of in-real-life people) and they were advertising a chat the other day on using a slow cooker. Slow cookers have gotten a lot of press in recent years as a way of preparing delicious meals with minimum hands-on time. That’s all fine and good, but I wanted to make a post and tout the virtues of my own favorite kitchen appliance: The Pressure Cooker.

Last fall, I bought a Fagor Pressure Cooker online. It was kind of an impulse purchase. The model I bought was discontinued (slightly different in appearance from the one I’ve linked to here, but similar otherwise) and was heavily discounted. I once had an aluminum pressure cooker, which I never used and had to get rid of when I moved to Arizona, but I had fond memories of my mom using hers to make chili and beef stew so I thought I’d buy a new one and try again.

This item has more than paid for itself in convenience. Pressure cookers cook food in a fraction of the time of normal stovetop cooking methods, a feat they are able to accomplish by creating a lot of steam in an enclosed environment and forcing it though the food. (You can check out a more detailed description of the science here.) This makes the pressure cooker especially good for handling anything that needs to boil or simmer for a long time. When I was still eating meat, I used mine to make chili, carnitas, and barbacoa. Now that I’m living the vegetarian life, I use it to make mashed potatoes and beans from dried beans (they still have to soak, but black beans can cook in about 10 minutes). For me, a pressure cooker is better than a slow cooker because I normally don’t plan my meals very far in advance. It’s nice to know that I can start meals when I get home, and still get quality food in a short amount of time.

Anatomy of a Pressure Cooker

There are drawbacks to pressure cooking. Some folks are intimidated by the process of sealing, locking, raising and lowering heat, releasing steam, etc. It took me a couple of tries to really get the cooking process right, but once you do you realize it’s not that tricky at all. Cooking methods may differ slightly between gas and electric stoves, though I have an electric glass-top and I’ve never had a problem following the standard instructions. The cooker also comes with a rubber gasket that needs to be lubricated with cooking oil and replaced from time to time, as it will dry out and crack with repeated use. However, again, none of these difficulties have prevented me from using my cooker. This Fagor model is also great in terms of volume and quality. Pressure cookers are generally fairly large pots, and are not designed to be filled up all the way because there needs to be space for trapped vapors to circulate. However, my Fagor model yielded about seven pounds of mashed potatoes for a Thanksgiving dinner, and the quality is great, too. I dropped the thing on a concrete floor back in the fall and it survived with only the lower handle broken (a cheap replacement online). An aluminum pot almost certainly would have dented, but this stainless steel is durable. Current models from Fagor also come with a 10-year limited warranty.

If you like slow cookers but need less lead-time on your meals, try using a pressure cooker. They are surprisingly versatile, and I think you’ll enjoy the results.

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