Under Pressure

(Sorry if you now have that song stuck in your head.)

Growing up I’d always heard dire stories about pressure cooker malfunctions–blowouts, dinner ending up on the ceiling, and even injuries in the more severe cases. These stories pretty much insured that it was one kitchen appliance that I wouldn’t be bothering with, despite some of the so-called benefits.

Or so I thought.

Recently I received a book to review that had me rethinking my stance on pressure cookers and other things. While that review is for a future post, it did get me researching and eventually buying a pressure cooker of my own. I think this is one of the most researched pots in my kitchen (or any other appliance or vessel, for that matter).

At first I figured (since I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be using it a lot outside of the projects for the aforementioned book review) that I’d hunt around some thrift stores for one on the cheap. But the more I thought about it, the better buying new sounded–mostly because you never know how well (or not) that pot was treated in its former home.

So the research began. I looked both in stores and online, keeping in mind a few deciding factors:

  • Ease of Use
  • Consumer Ratings
  • Price

cuisinartpressurecooker

Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker (affiliate link)

The shocking thing, to me, about pressure cookers was the price. The least expensive version my local Bed, Bath & Beyond carried was $70, with most–manual and electric–in the $99 region. And the fact that there were electric ones was quite intriguing, though I later opted for manual because of size/price concerns. After all, if the whole process turned into more trouble than it was worth, I didn’t want to be out too much money for this little experiment.

While 4- and 6-quart models are fairly common and relatively inexpensive, I learned that for my purposes, nothing less than a 10-quart model would do. That’s what ultimately knocked the electric models out the running, though I really did love the idea of being able to plug it in and let it do most of the work/monitoring.

fagorduo

Fagor DUO Pressure Cooker (affiliate link)

Within the manual types, though, there are those with pressure dials and those where you place the appropriate weights on the steam valve yourself. And those with rubber gaskets and those without. Ultimately I went with a 10-quart Fagor DUO that has a pressure dial and gasket. This model was very highly rated on Amazon and elsewhere, and those who purchased the 10-quart without the perforated basket and trivet missed those features tremendously, hence my decision to go with the DUO.

The gasket is what makes the build-up of steam pressure possible while also, as I understand it, acting as a safety valve should something go awry. If the other safety measures fail, the gasket will blow and release the built-up pressure at a designated spot, preventing a more serious mishap. Gaskets are also the more maintenance-heavy parts of the cooker as they require oiling after each use/cleaning and replacement at least once a year. The gaskets are pretty universal, though, so finding replacements shouldn’t be too tough.

Before I got into the book review project, I wanted to try out the basic tenet of pressure cooking: shortening the cooking time of everyday foods. The box for the pressure cooker touted roasting a chicken in 15 minutes–that was something I could easily try.

15-18 minutes was listed as appropriate for a 3 lb chicken. As mine was 4  lbs I figured 20 minutes would be enough. Now, that’s just the time required at pressure (high or 15 psi, in this case). You also have to factor in the time it takes for the vessel to reach that pressure as well as depressurizing afterwards, so my question was how much time it really would save.

Well, color me surprised when it took less than 5 minutes for the cooker to reach the needed pressure and less than 5 for it to depressurize afterwards! (And that’s using the “natural” method of moving it off the heat and waiting for the chamber to release the pressure on it’s own, not using the automatic release or cold-water release, both faster and useful for more delicate items.) So we really did have a roasted chicken in half an hour. Sure beats the 2 hours called for in the original recipe I was following!

Roast Chicken in less than 30 minutes.
Roast Chicken in less than 30 minutes.

Of course, pressure-steaming a chicken does mean you’re not as likely to have a golden-brown skin on your bird without browning it beforehand. You can do this in the pressure cooker before putting the lid on, but maneuvering the 4lb chicken in the deep pot wasn’t quite an easy task and I didn’t want to dirty another pan, so we settled for the paler bird. In the end, the brown rice I was making to accompany the chicken took longer than the chicken did. Quite a change!

For a first run it was a little nerve-wracking, baby-sitting the pressure cooker is a requirement to make sure, especially on an electric stove, that the pressure stays constant, but overall a success. While I’m not sure I’d use a pressure cooker for those more delicate foods that cook rather quickly on their own, I can definitely see it as a useful tool for rapidly making stocks and soups when the need arises, as well as other projects I’ve got lined up.

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