Pressure cookers are back.
Remember your mom or grandma using the heavyweight pots with seals and gauges?
The idea was to raise the cooking atmosphere to a temperature higher than boiling water and speed up the process of getting a meal on the table.
Today, pressure cookers are recommended for economical and/or fast cooking. They can tenderize a cheaper cut of meat or quickly cook beans.
Without an inherited cooker, you can still buy a new model. They come in two versions:
– copies of the old pressure cookers, which are heavy pots that sit atop a stove burner; and
– newer versions that are stand-alone, plug-in models resembling slow cookers.
Meijer, Sears and Wal-Mart are among the stores that sell both versions of pressure cookers on their Web sites, and some stores have them in stock. Prices range from $25 to $60 for stovetop models and $99 to $300 for electric, self-contained models.
Donna Falconnier, an educator with University of Illinois Extension, calls pressure saucepans "the forerunners of the Crock Pot." But don't confuse pressure cooker saucepans with pressure cooker canners, she advises.
Canners are larger, with racks for processing home-canned goods.
The pressure saucepan is smaller, with an about 6-quart capacity, and designed to cook food placed directly into the pot. It also can be used for canning small jars of food, but you need to put the jars on a rack that fits into the pot and allow adequate space on top, Falconnier says.
Chances are, cooks of yesteryear steamed vegetables to death in their pressure cookers.
"We don't push that any more because it's not the most nutritious way to cook," Falconnier said. "Vitamin A may be intensified, but other vitamins are destroyed."
She says the best uses for an old or new pressure cooker are:
– economical cooking of less tender cuts of meat;
– fast cooking (minutes instead of hours) of dried beans, lentils and legumes that have been soaked; and
– fast cooking of rice.
Three ways to cook in a pressure cooker, according to Pressure Cookers for Dummies, are:
– steaming under pressure, using water with a steaming basket or tray, which is perfect for steaming fresh vegetables, lobster and desserts such as cheesecake, puddings and custards;
– boiling foods that contain a lot of liquid, including soups and stews; and
– braising under pressure entrees and side dishes that have first been browned or sauteed in an open cooker.
Following are some recipes to try in your pressure cooker.
3 tablespoons prepared mustard; 3 to 3 1/2 pounds beef short ribs (2 1/2-inch thick), excess fat trimmed; 1/3 cup all-purpose flour; 1/4 cup olive oil; 4 leeks (white part only), sliced; 1/3 cup chopped parsley; 1 cup crushed canned tomatoes; 1 1/2 cups beef broth; 1/4 cup sherry; 1 tablespoon brown sugar; 1 1/2 teaspoons salt; 1/2 teaspoon pepper; 1 teaspoon dried tarragon; 6 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces; 6 medium-size potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices; 1/4 cup sour cream; 1/4 cup butter, softened; 1 1/2 tablespoons potato starch or flour.
Brush mustard on surface of ribs. Place flour in a shallow dish. Coat ribs with flour, shaking to remove excess.
In a pressure cooker, heat oil. Add ribs and saute, turning to brown on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Add leeks and parsley and saute in hot oil 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, broth, sherry, brown sugar, salt, pepper and tarragon. Add ribs.
Secure lid. Over high heat, develop steam to high pressure. Reduce heat to maintain pressure and cook 18 minutes. Release pressure according to manufacturer's directions. Remove lid.
(To skim off excess fat, drain meat through a colander. Put juices in freezer for 20 minutes so fat will rise to surface. Skim off fat and return juices and meat to pressure cooker.)
Add carrots and potatoes. Secure lid. Over high heat, develop steam to high pressure. Reduce heat to maintain pressure and cook 6 minutes. Release pressure according to manufacturer's directions. Remove lid. Transfer ribs and vegetables to a platter.
Combine sour cream, butter and potato starch, blending until smooth. Gradually add to cooking liquid, stirring and cooking over medium heat 1 minute. Spoon sauce over ribs and vegetables.
Makes 8 servings.
PRESSURE COOKER STEW
Cook in stages, starting with longest-cooking ingredients. Stew meat needs to cook at least 20 minutes and vegetables, 1 to 10 minutes.
Oil, stew meat, wine or stock, substantial vegetables such as potatoes and green beans, soft vegetables such as mushrooms.
Put oil in pressure cooker, heat and add meat to brown.
Add wine or stock and bring it to a boil. Cook under pressure for 15 minutes. Release pressure by using quick-release method.
Add substantial vegetables such as potatoes and green beans. Cook for 8 minutes and do another quick release.
Add soft vegetables such as mushrooms and cook everything for 1 minute.
QUICK LENTIL SIDE DISH
2 cups dried lentils, picked over and rinsed; 1 bay leaf; 1 to 2 large cloves garlic, minced; 1 large onion, coarsely chopped; 1 tablespoon oil; 1 1/2 quarts water (6 cups); 2 to 3 tablespoons prepared mustard, preferably Dijon-style; 1/2 cup finely minced fresh parsley; 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste.
Combine the lentils, bay leaf, garlic, onion, oil and water in the cooker. Lock the lid and, over high heat, bring to high pressure; maintain for 7 minutes. Reduce pressure with quick-release. Remove lid, tilting it away from you to allow steam to escape.
If the lentils are not done, lock the lid back in place and return to high pressure for 1-2 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
If using as a side dish, drain off most of the cooking liquid. Stir in mustard, parsley and salt. Adjust seasonings and serve.
WILD RICE PILAF
Wild rice actually is not rice, but a tall grass. It takes a lot longer to cook that regular rice.
1 1/2 cups wild rice; 6 1/2 cups chicken stock or water; 1 1/2 cups white rice; 1 pound bacon; 2 onions, chopped; 2 cups minced celery; 3/4 cup parsley; salt and pepper to taste; 3/4 cup toasted pine nuts.
Place wild rice and half (3 1/4 cups) of liquid in the pressure cooker. Bring to a boil, seal, bring up to 15 pounds pressure, reduce heat to stabilize pressure and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, depressurize and remove lid. Remove cooked wild rice and replace with white rice and remaining 3 1/4 cups liquid. Bring to a boil, seal, bring up to 15 pounds pressure, reduce heat to stabilize pressure and cook for 6 minutes.
Remove from heat, depressurize and remove lid. Mix rices together in cooker.
Meanwhile cut bacon into small pieces, fry until crisp and drain on paper towels. Remove majority of bacon grease from skillet, leaving a small amount to fry onions and celery until tender. Add cooked onion-celery mixture, bacon, parsley, salt and pepper to taste to the rices. Just before serving, add toasted pine nuts.
Makes 12 servings.
PRESSURE COOKER PINTO BEANS
2 cups dry pinto beans, 1/2 large yellow onion, 2 large garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon oregano, 4 sprigs fresh cilantro or 1 teaspoon dry cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 6 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon salt (optional).
Soak beans in hot water in a covered, medium saucepan for 1 hour. Drain beans and put in 6-quart pressure cooker. Cook over medium-high heat for 50 minutes.
Mash cooked beans. Add the salt to cooked beans.
CREAMY RICE PUDDING
2 tablespoons butter, 3 cups milk, 1 cup long-grain rice, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, ground cinnamon.
Melt the butter in a pressure cooker over medium-high heat.
Add the milk and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice.
Cover and bring to high pressure over high heat. Lower the heat to stabilize the pressure. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Release pressure by natural release method. (This method takes 15-25 minutes.)
Unlock and remove the cover. Stir in sugar and vanilla.
Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with cinnamon.
Makes 6 servings.
Peruse before you pressure-cook
Tips for safe and successful pressure cooking from Donna Falconnier, an educator with University of Illinois Extension:
— Read the directions for your model.
— Sear meats first if you want them to look brown after pressure cooking.
— Do not overfill the pot. Some foods, like cereals, can clog the vent if they fill up more than half the pot.
— Add a minimum of liquid because it will not evaporate. One cup is the average amount, but some models call for 1/2 cup and others call for 2 cups.
— After you fill the cooker and seal the lid, exhaust the steam through the vent for the amount of time recommended for your pot. That pushes the air out and allows cooking with pure steam. Next, drop a weighted gauge into the lid slot (if it is not attached to the lid) and start timing your food.
— Follow manufacturers' instructions for stopping the cooking.
Some cookers recommend letting the cooker cool down on its own before opening the lid (that method frequently works best when cooking things like roasts).
Some models have a quick release method.
Some manuals suggest putting cold water on the lid. Do not plunge the whole pot into cold water. That can warp your cooker and/or cause hot food to boil out of the exhaust vent and burn the cook.
Never immediately open the lid. You could be burned with steam. (Newer, deluxe versions have safety valves to prevent this.)
— Store a lid with attached rubber seal off the pot. With a separate seal, wash and dry your rubber seal and store it outside the lid and pot. Do not oil it. Seals need to be replaced periodically.
A few historical footnotes on the pressure cooker
— A Frenchman invented the first pressure cooker in 1679. Called "a new digester or engine" for softening bones, the large cast iron pot required a special furnace. Because regulating temperatures and steam was difficult, explosions were common.
— Denis Papin, the inventor, pressure cooked a meal for royalty in 1682 that was described as turning the hardest bones into a texture that was as soft as cheese.
— Small cookers for home kitchens were developed in the 1800s.
— The first saucepan-style pressure cooker was introduced in the U.S. at the 1939 World's Fair.
— Versions called "boilerettes" were popular between 1935 and the 1950s. A pressurized water jacket kept temperatures a few degrees above 212 degrees, or boiling. The device kept food from sticking or burning, but did not speed things up much.
— Cheaper, poor quality pressure cookers made after World War II frequently exploded, turning home cooks against them.
— The 1950s also brought more food products to the home that were quick to mix up or heat up, so pressure cookers got pushed to the back of a lot of cupboards.