As a working Dad, Mike Vrobel is a busy fellow. He also an enthusiastic cook and who does a lively blog called Dad Cooks Dinner. I’m delighted to say that he has become a big fan of pressure cooking. In fact, he had devoted this week of blogging to pressure cooking. Here’s what he has to say:
Things I Love: Pressure Cooker
I don’t think of myself as a cook who likes gadgets. My favorite kitchen tools are my knife and my wooden spoon. But there are a few gadgety* tools I use often. One of them is my pressure cooker…
I use a pressure cooker when I need to compress cooking time. When I have a recipe that says “simmer for 4 hours”, but I need it done in one hour, my pressure cooker comes out. I view the pressure cooker as the time-bending opposite of the slow cooker. One is useful when you don’t have much time; the other is useful when you have a ton of time.
The pressure cooker joined my batterie de cuisine years ago. It was back when Diane was pregnant with Tim, our youngest child. He decided, after only three months of pregnancy, that he was tired of waiting and wanted to join us. Diane was put on bed rest, and only allowed to get out of bed once a day for the last six months of the pregnancy. Ben was three years old, Natalie was one, and I was suddenly Mr. Mom on top of DadCooksDinner.
*After this experience, I marvel at single parents. How do they get through the daily batch of whining, late night wake-up calls, illnesses, and all the other trials that being a parent brings? When I’m tired, cranky, sick, or busy with work, I have Diane to back me up. And vice versa. In this case, I knew I just had to hang on for six months. How do you do it when you have to hang on until eighteen? If you are a single parent, and are reading this, you have my admiration and respect.
My pressure cooker helped me hold on to my sanity. Some people exercise for their mental health; I cook. With the pressure cooker, I could cook stews and chilies when I had a few minutes to myself, after the kids were in bed. I would start them while I cleaned the kitchen, and they would be done in about an hour. Then I could collapse with a good book for the rest of the evening. The next night, I would take them out of the fridge, scrape off the congealed fat, and reheat them on the stove. Dinner was ready in fifteen minutes, and I had leftovers for lunch the rest of the week. For the next six months, I worked my way through Lorna Sass’s The Pressured Cook: One-Pot-Meals in Minutes…The pressure cooker has been in regular use in my kitchen ever since.
*The end result of the bed rest was a healthy baby, born one month early. I can’t believe Tim is five years old; it seems like this happened only yesterday. He has the personality you would expect for someone who wanted to be born six months early – stubborn and determined to do things his way.
**I have no idea where he gets that from.
How does it work?
Pressure cookers use the steam from cooking to build pressure in the cooker. The lid has an airtight seal, and locks onto the top of the pot. In the lid is a regulator that will not allow air to escape until it reaches operating pressure at 15PSI (roughly 1.0 bar).
Under pressure, water comes to a boil at a higher temperature, 250*F instead of 212*F. The higher temperature combined with the pressure cooks food much faster than normal. How much faster? Pressure cooking cuts simmering time by two thirds. For example, take my favorite pressure cooker recipe, homemade chicken stock. Normally, chicken stock should simmer for 4 hours. In the pressure cooker, chicken stock takes 45 minutes once you’re up to pressure. Chili goes from 3 hours of simmering to 25 minutes under pressure. Pot roast? Done in an hour. Pressure has the amazing ability to compress cooking times.
What does it do well?
The downside to the pressure cooker is the lack of specific control while you’re cooking. Once you lock the lid, you can’t check on anything until it is done cooking. Don’t pressure cook anything that takes careful timing or measuring of temperature.*
*Examples: Chicken breasts, rare beef, or anything ever described with the word “lean”.
Pressure cooking is best for braises, stews, chilies, curries, pot roasts, dried beans, and soups. In other words, it is a good replacement for long, slow, wet cooking methods, where overcooking doesn’t happen easily.
*If a recipe has the words “simmer for X hours” in it, then it will be perfect for the pressure cooker.
To read further and to see his recipes and other entries on pressure cooking, click here:
To order inscribed copies of my four pressure cookbooks, visit www.lornasass.com.