Friday, October 17, 2008

The Benefits of Pressure Cookers

One of the best tools for cooking grains and legumes is a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers have historically been labeled as "unsafe", but this is not true of pressure cookers today. Just like anything else, most pressure cookers are perfectly safe when their directions are followed. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about pressure cookers.

How does a pressure cooker work?
The answer from a physics perspective would take up several pages, so I'll spare you and give a brief synopsis. Pressure cookers have tight fitting lids that lock into place. As the liquid inside the pot evaporates it makes steam and the steam rises to the top of the pot. As the steam rises it creates pressure in the pot and the temperature of the contents begins to increase. As the temperature and pressure increase, the cooking time of food is sped up considerably. For more details on the science behind pressure cooking, see this popular science article:

What are the benefits of using a pressure cooker?
  • Pressure-cooking can cook foods in 1/3 the ordinary time on average and often over 10 times faster. You can cook almost all grains and legumes from start to finish (no soaking necessary) in an hour or less.
  • Pressure-cooked foods retain their flavor better than other methods because (1) the steam permeates the food and unlocks its flavor and (2) pressure cooking doesn't use a lot of water where flavors can dissolve into.
  • Pressure-cooked food retains more of its nutrients than other cooking methods. This is because of shortened cooking times and less water used.
  • When cooking in a pressure cooker, you can use less fat.
  • Pressure cooking uses less energy than most other cooking methods.
What kind of pressure cooker should I buy?
I use a Kuhn Rikon and I highly recommend it. It has performed excellently. My "dream" pressure cooker is pictured here. It is a 6 Quart Digital Cuisinart. I have used this pressure cooker before and it is a miracle. It plugs into an outlet and has a digital timer. You pour the contents in, turn it on and it cooks dinner for you. It's just like a slow-cooker, but it's not slow. When it's done cooking, it will keep the food warm until you are ready to serve it.

Does anyone have any more information to share about pressure cookers, other pressure-cooker brands they like, or experiences with pressure cookers to share?

Update: I have since bought a 6 Quart Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker and it is wonderful!

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