Here’s the piece that appeared on 1/25/10 in the popular NY Times blog, Bitten by Mark Bittman. I’ve been trying to sell Mark on the pressure cooking for years. We’re getting closer…I’m particularly gratified that Paula mentions the 20th anniversary edition of COOKING UNDER PRESSURE. If you want to check out the many comments left by readers, click here.
Here’s what Mark Bittman said in his short intro to the blog: “Paula Crossfield, the managing editor of Civil Eats, e-mailed me recently about how much she likes her new pressure cooker. I asked her to write about it, and she did.” –MB)
I received a great gift this year for Christmas: a pressure cooker. Popular in Europe, India and many other parts of the world, pressure cookers have become quite modern: my five-quart Swiss-made Kuhn Rikon has a lid that is simple to close, a lock inside which prevents me from opening the lid until the pressure is released, and a pressure indicator so I know when to turn down the heat. No more soup on the ceiling.
With it, I can cook most dried beans in twenty minutes or less. Some, like lentils or split peas, can be done in less than ten. Most vegetables need five minutes or less in a pressure cooker, and grains cook in a third of the time it would take in an ordinary pot. You can be endlessly creative: combine them in soups like a black-eyed pea chili or in Indian-style curries.
Lorna Sass, the author of the re-released cookbook “Cooking Under Pressure,” says that the pressure cooker “makes possible a healthy, new definition of fast food.” She continued, “I’m an impatient cook. If I have an appliance that allows me to eat a delicious lentil soup about 15 minutes after the idea comes to mind, that’s my idea of a great appliance.”
The key to pressure cooking is in the liquid you add to your grains, beans, veggies and meat. Liquids heat fast, and the steam produced helps build pressure in the sealed pot, quickly tenderizing the fibers of the food inside. The result of that contained cooking holds other surprises: intense flavor, and more nutrients maintained in the food.
Risotto, says Lorna Sass, is an impressive dish that has succeeded in converting many people to pressure cookers. I decided to make a basic broccoli risotto, based on her recipe. I chopped an onion, diced a clove of garlic and sautéed both in the pressure cooker, lid off. After the onions became translucent, I added a finely chopped head of broccoli and 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice, stirring to coat everything in the oil. I already had stock in the fridge (a simple recipe of Mark’s from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”: a quartered onion, two halved garlic cloves sautéed in olive oil, to which I added three tablespoons of soy sauce, carrot peels, a quartered potato, one chopped rib of celery, a bunch of parsley stems, and eight cups of boiling water, cooked under high pressure for five minutes), so I added four cups along with a pinch of saffron and salt, and then locked the lid in place. The prep took longer than the five minutes the dish required to cook; after that, I let the steam out by pressing on the valve with an oven-mitted hand. Then I slid open the lid to find a transformation of rice and broccoli into the creamy, delicious Northern Italian dish. I stirred in a cup of grated parmesan and then tasted it: delicious.
Critics of pressure cooking are often people who like to monitor what’s going on in the pot. With this technique, it isn’t an option. However, once the pot is sealed, and the timer is set, the cook using a pressure cooker is free to set the table, open the wine, or prepare dessert. It takes some getting used to, but the time savings is always worth the trade off.