Steven and Chris Episodes

When Pressure Pays Off in the Kitchen

Along with her finger-licking rib recipe, Chef Voula Halliday shares some background on pressure cookers, what makes them so great, and how to select one for your kitchen. It all goes to show you, when it comes to cooking a little pressure can go a long way.

Just before WWII there were many companies in the US producing pressure cookers. With the war effort requiring any available aluminum that could be melted down to manufacture airplane parts, homemakers generously donated their cookers.

When the war ended (and the demand for pressure cookers was back) companies that were expert producers of airplane parts decided to go into the pressure cooker business. Pressure cookers were poorly designed by these companies, made on the cheap in a hurry, and, well, cookers that exploded and sprayed food all over the kitchen was the result.

Of course, this turned people off, until the 70's when young cooks rediscovered old pressure cookers in their grannies basements and started to use them again without knowing that these particular cookers weren't necessarily in good working order. That led to more explosions, and more cookers being sent to the metal graveyard.

It wasn't until recently (especially in Europe where pressure cooking is really popular) that these efficient kitchen helpers have become 100 percent safe and reliable. They are a great solution to cooking healthy food fast.

How does it work?

  • Steam and heat is trapped inside a pot making the pressure increase and the heat rise up to 250F, which is almost 40F higher than what boiling water will reach above sea level.
  • Steam cooks efficiently and breaks down fibers more rapidly, so even the toughest cuts of meat end up tender and moist.

Benefits of Pressure Cookers

  • Food done fast: Faster than the time it takes to call in an order and wait for it to be delivered. Food cooks faster, without burning, because the temperature gets hotter than conventional cooking methods.
  • Nutrient value is great. Food is cooked quickly with little water and no air, so naturally occurring flavors intensify, and nutrients are not depleted in the process.
  • You can cook pretty much cook anything without adding fat.
  • You can cook almost anything in a pressure cooker even dessert!
  • Tougher, less expensive cuts of meat become meltingly delicious.
  • Today's pressure cookers come with many safety features (such an overpressure plug that ensures safe release of pressure at all times).

Best way to use a pressure cooker

  • Read the manufacturer's instructions cover to cover. It's your best friend.
  • Make sure all the components of the cooker are clean and that air vent is clear before using.
  • Follow recipes carefully to ensure great results when you are first learning how to use your pressure cooker. Then rely on cooking time charts in the manufacturer's manual when you start to create your own recipes.
  • As a general rule, cup (125 mL) of liquid is good for 15 minutes of pressure cooking time.
  • Do not fill pressure cooker over 2/3 full.
  • Always place cooker on a burner that is no larger than the base of the pan.
  • Start with the heat set to high in order to quickly pressurize the cooker.
  • The standard cooker reaches 15 psi (pounds per square inch) of pressure at it's high point--once your cooker reaches high pressure, turn it down as low as you can just in order to maintain pressure, according to your instruction manual.
  • If the pressure is too high, you lose moisture and risk burning your meal.
  • As soon as you low down the temperature, set your timer for the appropriate cooking time and keep the timer close to you.
  • If you have an electric stove top, move the cooker off the burner for a moment as soon as it has come to pressure, then turn temperature on burner down and wait for a moment before returning cooker to element to ensure that the temperature has cooled down enough to stabilize the pressure.
  • When the timer goes off, allow pressure to release according to recipe instructions, either naturally or through a quick release method.
  • Do not open your cooker until it is depressurized; if the lid resists opening, chances are it's not depressurized.

Selecting a pressure cooker

  • Stainless steel is best as it can be used on all types of stoves and even on an outdoor campfire; it does not react to acidic food and is easy to clean (even dishwasher safe). Since it's not porous it will also stay clean and free from bacteria.
  • A three-ply/heavy based-cooker is best for conducting heat, and allows for high heat settings, making it easy to reach pressurization fast.
  • Go with a standard pressure cooker of 15 psi (that's been around for a century at least).
  • Look for enhanced safety features (such as interlocking lid, overpressure plug).
  • Make sure your cooker has strong double handles.
  • Buy from a company that provides replacement parts (i.e. sealing ring).

Sources
Miss Vickie's Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes
National Presto Industry Inc. Pressure Cooker Instruction Manual

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