Ask Peter: Pressure cooker
Do you have an opinion on pressure cookers? I am thinking of getting one as I am quite time-poor in the kitchen but am unsure I would use it enough — I do love to have things slow-cooking in the oven.
I do indeed have an opinion and that is that they are terrific. Ten years or so ago I did some recipe development for an Italian design company who had produced a gorgeous pressure cooker they were finding hard to sell in the UK market. I think younger people viewed them as old-fashioned, and some were worried they would explode — neither of which is true, but I can understand the former view.
As a child, my step-mum Rose would often use the cooker to make her corned beef and soups, and my gran would make lentil soups and the likes in them. I guess the dishes that came out of them were as old-fashioned as the concept. But, as these things do, old-fashioned becomes the new black, and I think it’s time a pressure cooker was added to every wedding list and given to every first time flatter!
I can’t really think of any negative points, but the plus points include faster cooking, lower gas and electric bills and less water usage. I’ve done a bit of online research and found (via Canada) that 1.5 litres of water will come to the boil more than 3 times faster in a pressure cooker. You’re unlikely to want to boil water this way but it’s a good indication of the speed and efficiency of this method.
Ryan and Leslie, who I assume are American, tell us that you can cook beef stew in 19 minutes in a pressure cooker, as opposed to a few hours on the stove or in the oven in a casserole. They also say that risotto can be cooked in 10 minutes instead of an hour. I’ve never taken an hour to cook risotto — but would agree 10 minutes is correct. Purists would then say that a real risotto must be stirred continuously, but time-poor Italian friends of mine say they stir as and when they can, so pressure-cooked, with the lid remaining on the whole time, works for me.
Because the pressure cooker cooks so much faster, you’ll use far less gas or electricity, so will help cash-strapped uni students manage their bills. Rather like using induction vs old fashioned electric coil hobs, the kitchen will be cooler, as less cooking time is needed, and if you use an induction-friendly pressure cooker then I can only imagine your bills will slowly reduce.
Less water is achieved when using the cooker to “steam” vegetables. You need barely any water in the bottom, 150ml or so, and then if your cooker has a steamer basket as part of the kit, you put that in along with the vegetable and then put the lid on and cook it. Whole corn cobs, or chunks thereof, need only 3-4 minutes. Broccoli and beans a minute less.
So, that’s all the vaguely technical stuff. As to what can you do with them, it’s anything you would normally cook in a saucepan or slow-cooker. The disadvantage here is that you can’t stir as it cooks, and you must let the pressure ease before taking off the lid or else you will badly burn yourself and the ceiling.
They’re great for cooking chickpeas and pulses — the time saving is enormous, so you’ll have no excuse for buying canned chickpeas ever again.
Beef short-ribs on the bone, lamb and root vege stews, rolled stuffed pork shoulder, a vegetarian pumpkin and lentil curry — all can be cooked successfully. Depending on your cooker, you can brown the onions, meat etc as you normally would in the pan part, then add the liquids and spices, then begin cooking under pressure from that point.
Rice pudding works really well, especially black rice cooked with banana, palm sugar and coconut milk. It’s cooked much faster than in a regular saucepan and is just as tasty. When it comes to the amount of liquid you need, just remember that a regular saucepan will lose a certain amount of liquid from evaporation, so you’ll need slightly less when using a pressure cooker.
I’d suggest you buy a book dedicated to pressure cookers and give it a go. Having written this now, I’ll certainly be getting mine out and using it more often.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.