Under Pressure

Usually I am knee-deep into my garden at this time of year. However, the late spring in New England has kept my digging and tilling to a minimum. It has also kept me craving hot, filling, comfort food dinners. Thankfully, Mr. Food It Yourself and I have a pressure cooker, so tasty stews are never more than a few minutes away!

So, what is a pressure cooker? It’s just a heavy sauce pan with a gasket on the lid and a valve to regulate how much pressure is allowed to build inside.

Start your aromatics, just like every other soup or stew.

Start your aromatics, just like every other soup or stew.

Increased pressure inside means super-heated water, which means faster cooking. A close relative, the pressure canner (which can also be used for cooking) has a gauge on top to allow for the selection of a specific amount of pressure. This makes canning extra safe, but it is not critical for every-day cooking.

Here is the website for the company that made our pressure cooker. They have a very clear “anatomical” view of the typical pressure cooker.  It looks complicated, but trust me, it’s pretty easy to use. Here are some sites with recipes for pressure cookers:

You can also wing it with your favorite recipe. Yes, you may have a dish or two that is less than ideal. That’s part of the experimentation process. Keep trying, you’ll figure out the best way to adapt your favorite recipes. To get you started, here are some things I have learned from experience:

  • Steam, especially under pressure, can do some seriously impressive things. These things can scald and burn you if you are not careful. Read your instruction manual and follow it. Especially the instructions for opening the valves after cooking to depressurize the pan.
  • Pressure is powerful. Delicate ingredients, like pasta, bulgur wheat, and spinach do not react well to pressure cooking. Cook pasta in a separate
    Add the stuff. Because the cooking liquid (yes, there must be liquid) is super-heated you can cook meat from a frozen state. That pork is still frozen.

    Add the stuff. Because the cooking liquid (yes, there must be liquid) is super-heated you can cook meat from a frozen state. That pork is still frozen.

    pot and add after the pressure is off. Stir spinach in at the last minute, it takes all of 30 seconds to cook.

  • If a stew is good in a crock pot it’s probably good in a pressure cooker. I use the same beef stew recipe in both.
  • Rice and beans are amazing in a pressure cooker; be aware that the texture will be a little different from the sea-level-pressure-cooked variety. Also, the rice swells more and releases more starch so your soup with rice may turn into ricey paste with soup ingredients. I don’t mind sticky rice paste; some do. You may need to experiment with using less rice.

Do you have an old pressure cooker gathering dust? Give pressure cooking a try! After you check the gasket. And make sure the pressure valve is clear.

After 20 minutes of pressure we got some slow cooked flavor. Perfect for week night dinner.

After 20 minutes of pressure we got some slow cooked flavor. Perfect for week night dinner.

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