Thursday, September 20, 2012

Let's Talk About Pressure Cookers

In an effort to shed some of the weight I gained this summer, I have renewed my efforts to cook for myself more often.  I've always loved my crockpot because it has allowed me to make huge batches of delicous food, which I could then portion and freeze for easy reheating at some future time.  My biggest beef with the crockpot, though, was that I could rarely arrange my life so as to have a hot meal waiting for me when I got home.  My hours at work can be unpredictable and I didn't like the thought of leaving the crockpot up and running for twelve hours (or even longer, after which the crockpot would shut itself off and I would risk food spoiliation). 

Also, I don't like waiting for food to be done and prefer as close to instant satisfaction as possible.

I was intrigued by the prospect of a pressure cooker after reading an article about pressure cooking in Cooking Light magazine a while back (here).  The main selling point of the pressure cooker is that it cooks foods using pressurized steam so that you achieve the same degree of tender perfection you would expect from a slow cooker, but in 30% of the time.  In other words, what would take eight hours in the slow cooker or 3-4 hours in the oven/stove only takes an hour in the pressure cooker.  (Or realistically, an hour + about 5-7 minutes for the cooker to accumulate pressure.)

Snap.  That's all I have to say.  Just snap.

The biggest negative of the pressure cooker, based on my research, is only that they carry the risk of explosion, scalding, and painful death.


So, despite my hesitations, when a friend of mine simplified her kitchen and offered to give me a mostly new electric pressure cooker last month, I was too tempted think of my bodily integrity and accepted on the spot.  Of course, she assured me that these newfangled pressure cookers have lots of safety mechanisms built in to prevent disaster, but really what sold me was the 25-minute roast whole chicken.

(This is the model my friend gave me -- a Deni 8.5 Quart) (available here) (note the mixed reviews --- as much as I love this pressure cooker, especially the large capacity and the slow cook function, several reviewers said that their Deni cooker broke after a few uses.  There are a few higher-rated options on Amazon here, here, and here, although they lack the slow cook function and are smaller than 8.5 quarts.)

I've been playing with this pressure cooker for a month now and I can safely say that it's a fantastic appliance!  I'm not sure why I was ever intimidated by this thing.  The electric models look like crock pots (and the Deni even has a slow cooker function) and they can cook similarly large, freeze-able quantities of food.  I'm told there's some kind of locky latchy thing that keeps the pressure cooker from starting if it's not fully closed and that somehow keeps it from exploding.  (The mechanics of that last part are unclear to me, but it seems that the explosions are mostly a problem with the stovetop model.)  Also, using common sense when opening the lid or releasing the pressure makes it easy to avoid physical injury.  (i.e., that scalding-hot steam that's about to come out of the machine?  Don't put exposed skin in its way.  Easy enough?)

(This extreme may not be necessary.) (Source)

The best thing?  The food that comes out of this guy (the pressure cooker, not the man in the photo above) is AMAZING:

*  I have NEVER successfully cooked even a single artichoke, but this thing got six done in eight minutes and they were PERFECT. 

*  That 25-minute roast chicken I mentioned?  The most delicious, tender chicken I have ever made EVER, including the white meat which is the true sign of a well-cooked chicken, I think.  And know this:  I am CONSTANTLY messing up chicken because I am so paranoid about undercooking it that I always dry it out.  (Also, the pressure cooker I have has a "brown" feature, so I could brown/crisp up the chicken before starting the steaming.) 

*  I made ropa vieja in about an hour, and because the pressure cooker can do wonders tenderizing cheap meat, I skipped my normal flank steak and bought cheap London broil on sale, saving about $20 on meat alone.  The London broil cooked perfectly and shredded as easily with forks as a more expensive cut of meat would have.

So, in sum, I am thrilled with the pressure cooker.  The electric ones seemingly require very little effort and oversight and the results are truly, truly fantastic.  Almost unfairly fantastic, because I should not be getting any of the credit for how good my food turns out nowadays.  (Thanks, Shari!)

Do you have a pressure cooker?  Do you have a similarly magic piece of kitchen equipment?  Dish!  (ha, pun retroactively intended.)

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