Monday, June 13, 2011

Cooking Under Pressure

My dad called me the other morning and told me that NPR had just featured a story on pressure cookers. In it, the journalist describes how pressure cookers used to be very popular in kitchens throughout the United States, but due to the volatility of the first models, they fell out of favor. Internationally, however, pressure cookers remain a fixture in the kitchen because they are economical.

Several years ago, Eric and I saw a demonstration at Strictly Sail Chicago for the Fagor Pressure Magic (which unfortunately is no longer available through Fagor’s site). We were blown away by its capability and practicality. We purchased one immediately, and just as we suspected, we use it all of the time. The Fagor model Eric and I own is specifically designed for use on a boat. It is made from stainless steel to resist rust, has two back-up pressure releases, and can be configured to desalinate seawater in an emergency. In addition, unlike most pressure cookers, ours is also a pressure fryer (we have never used it for this purpose, and unless your pressure cooker is designed for frying, do not attempt). The particular marine model we purchased was pricey, but there are a lot of alternatives on the market for home use.

I still struggle to accept the fact that our pressure cooker will not explode. Rationally, I know it is completely safe, but I can’t stop myself from picturing the lid popping off, flying across the room, and decapitating me (I have a vivid imagination, I know). Truthfully, the pressure cooker is Eric’s toy. On the nights he cooks, it is his go-to tool, and when I cook with it, I rely on him for assistance (clamping the lid down, releasing the steam valve, etc.). Even though I know it is harmless, due to all of the sounds our pressure cooker makes, it is still a little scary for me. Although the NPR article likened the sound of the new models to that which a baby makes, I, for one, have never heard a baby hiss or seen steam escape from a baby’s mouth. Perhaps babies do this, I have no idea, as I am not a mother. Compared to the first models, I’m sure ours is rather quiet, but when I hear something hissing under pressure, I instinctively duck for cover! With time, maybe I’ll get over my fear, but I’m not holding out too much hope. I’m already into my 30's and remain distrustful of gas stoves, space heaters, and electrical sockets. Here is a picture of our current pressure cooker (the photo has been altered in order to convey how frightening the pressure cooker looks in my mind):

Despite all of my unfounded fears, I absolutely recommend pressure cookers. They are efficient, easy to use (in my case with help), and pay for themselves. On a boat, a pressure cooker is essential. Under pressure, food cooks at a much higher temperature, which means dinner is done faster and less fuel is consumed in the process. Even more so than on land, cutting fuel consumption on a boat is extremely important. Additionally, because the pressure cooker can re-hydrate dried foods in minutes, while on a long journey, you are less reliant on perishable food items. A pressure cooker is also more comfortable to use in hot weather. Whereas an ordinary pot spews heat and steam while you cook, a pressure cooker retains the steam until you are ready to release it, and that may be done outside without heating/steaming the cabin. A pressure cooker is also extremely flexible. You can cook anything you'd make in a slow cooker in it, except it cooks extra fast. You can also cook dried beans without pre-soaking, make stocks and stews quickly, roast meat in 1/3 time as in the oven, and even bake bread (although the bread doesn't come out with a crust, but rather a skin - like a weird bagel). Overall, the pressure cooker is a great kitchen tool whether on land or at sea.

To get you started, here is one of our favorite pressure cooker recipes:

Red Bean Mishmash

  • 8.8 oz package Israeli couscous
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 can red beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
  • cubed raw chicken breast, sausage, or hot dog (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, minced or crushed (optional)
  • seasoning (oregano, parsley, etc)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • olive oil for cooking
In addition, Eric and I have also added (although, not all at once):
  • Baby spinach (several handfuls, washed)
  • Onion (medium, chopped)
  • Kale (1/2 bunch, washed and chopped)
  • Bell pepper (washed and chopped)

  1. With the lid off, heat olive oil in pressure cooker over medium-high heat
  2. Reduce heat and add garlic; cooking until lightly browned (optional)
  3. If using raw chicken, add now and lightly brown (1-2 minutes)
  4. Add couscous and lightly brown (1 minute)
  5. If using pre-cooked sausage or hot dog, add now
  6. Add chicken or vegetable broth
  7. Add seasoning, red pepper flakes, and salt & pepper to taste
  8. Add red beans and tomatoes; stir a few times
  9. Cover pot with lid and clamp down tightly (follow directions for your model)
  10. Once cooker is at pressure, reduce heat to low and cook for 3-4 minutes
  11. Remove lid (there will be a lot of steam, so don't stick your head over the pot)
  12. Serve hot and enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Krissy, you should right comedy for Hollywoood! I love you sense of humor.