oday's chefs are rediscovering the magic of pressure cookers. And why not? You can turn a piece of meat that's as tough as an old boot into a silky mouthful of yummy in a matter of minutes.
But time isn't the only benefit. The process of pressure cooking retains much more of the foods' nutrients than other methods. And while it does wonders on less-tender cuts of meat, the pressure cooker really shines when it comes to root vegetables, beans and grains. For this reason, vegans have latched onto it.
JL Fields, a Colorado Springs-based author, is putting the finishing touches on a cookbook about pressure cooking for vegans. She started using a pressure cooker about a year after going vegan, and one of her favorite things to prepare is dried beans.
"I'm cuckoo about pressure cookers," she said. "They are a vegan's best friend. They are a game-changer for cooking beans. Instead of taking hours to cook dry beans, you can get the job done in 15 to 20 minutes."
And it saves money. A 16-ounce package of dried beans costs about $3 and makes roughly 7? cups of cooked beans. So 1? cups of cooked dried beans cost about 60 cents compared with closer to $2 for canned organic beans.
"I am writing 'Vegan Pressure Cooking' because not only can you make beans and grains in minutes, you can make a variety of one-pot meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner," Fields said. "Soups, stews and chili cook up in minutes, and you can make decadent but healthy desserts, like rice pudding, in seven minutes."
Kathy Anderson, who is one half of the Crazy Good Personal Chefs, frequently teaches pressure-cooker classes at Chefs Outlet Store.
"I came to pressure-cooker cooking over two years ago while helping with a class at Chefs, where a wonderful pork shoulder roast was cooked fork-tender in 45 minutes for an Oktoberfest meal," she said. "I've always loved the texture of a slow-cooked, beef-chuck pot roast. And doing it in the pressure cooker in 45 minutes versus six to eight hours in a slow cooker saves energy. Plus, the high-pressure cooking quickly breaks down the collagen and infuses the meat with great flavor."
Heinz von Holzen, chef and owner of Bumbu Bali Restaurant and Cooking School in Bali, Indonesia, uses a pressure cooker for making the most flavorful chicken broth.
"Use some meatier pieces of chicken, like thighs," he said. "Boil the chicken and let all the fat foam to the top of the pan. Pour that water off. Place the chicken into a pressure cooker and cook about 30 minutes at high pressure. The steam will break down the collagen in the chicken bones, releasing deeply rich flavor to the broth. It's fast and healthy."
Pressure cookers are not new. According to about.com, the term "pressure cooker" first appeared in print in 1915. The first commercial pressure cooker debuted in the United States at the New York World's Fair in 1939, made by National Presto Industries."
Pressure cookers are saucepans with a lid that locks in place. When heated, the tremendous steam that is created cooks foods faster. There's a valve system to regulate internal pressure, and a safety valve will vent the steam should there be a malfunction.
Early pressure cookers were not meant to be left alone because they could explode. Today's pressure cookers are high-tech, and one of the improved safety features prevents opening until all pressure is released from the pot.
Anderson opted for a stove-top model since it reaches the standard 15 pounds of pressure per square inch of food. Some electric models do not reach 15 psi so the food cooks slower. Depending on what you're making, you will release steam, and therefore pressure, by using one of two methods: the natural release or quick release. For the natural-release method, you simply remove the pressure cooker from the heat source and let the pressure dissipate. This can take up to 30 minutes, and the food will continue to cook. For the quick-release method, you can remove the cooker from the heat source and run cold water over the top of the lid, which cools the pot in less than a minute.