Pressure cookers are an excellent choice for getting a healthy dinner on the table quickly, and with no loss of flavor, need for additional fat or loss of vitamins and minerals in the cooking process. Once you discover the modern generation of pressure cookers, you’ll love preparing meals in this kitchen superstar.
How Pressure Cookers Work
Pressure cookers use steam in an airtight pot to produce heat along with pressure. As the steam is unable to evaporate from the sealed pot, pressure builds up in the cooker, forcing steam into the food, and cooking it very quickly. Food in a pressure cooker typically cooks in 1/3 the time of boiling or other methods, and often cooks as much as ten times faster.
The high pressure and steam produces moist, tender food that has intensified flavor, and no loss of nutrients as you would find with traditional boiling. And don’t think you are limited to just one or two recipes with your pressure cooker; you can cook just about anything, including meat, vegetables, rice and beans, soups and stews, potatoes and desserts.
Choosing A Pressure Cooker
A pressure cooker will last for many years and you will probably reach for it frequently once you discover how useful it is. Therefore, you will want to choose the model that is best for your needs. There is a variety of options to choose from.
The two common materials for pressure cookers are aluminum or stainless steel.
- Aluminum provides uniform heat for even cooking, is lightweight and less expensive than stainless steel. However, aluminum can stain, pit or warp, and requires a nonstick coating which is unlikely to last the life of the appliance. Even a slight warping from an overheated pot can cause a loss of the airtight seal, rendering the pressure cooker ineffective. Choose aluminum if your budget is very tight, or you need a lighter, easier-to-lift pot.
The Presto 6-Quart Aluminum Pressure Cooker comes with a cooking rack and recipe book, and sells for $29.99 at Amazon.com.
- Stainless steel is heavier and more expensive than aluminum, but will last a lifetime. Look for a stainless steel pressure cooker with a 3-ply base having a layer of aluminum between two layers of stainless steel for the most even cooking. Stainless steel resists staining, pitting or warping, and is safe to wash in the dishwasher. Many cooks also feel that food is less likely to burn or stick to the bottom of a stainless steel cooker.
An excellent choice of stainless steel pressure cooker is the Presto 6-Quart Stainless Pressure Cooker. With a cooking rack and recipe book, it sells for $47.54 at Amazon.com.
Most pressure cookers are designed to be used on top of the stove, like a regular cooking pot. There are electric models however, which provide the ease of preprogrammed cook settings and automated pressure release. You might think it’s an obvious choice, and head straight for the electric pressure cooker, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both heat sources.
- A stovetop pressure cooker allows you to fine-tune your temperature and cooking time, which is preferable for cooking vegetables, beans or rice that might burn or stick at high temperatures. With a stovetop cooker, you can release the pressure quickly, preventing overcooking of delicate foods like fish or tender vegetables. The stovetop unit gives you more control, but also has a slight learning curve and does require more attention to cooking time and pressure settings. If you love to cook, prepare recipes that require very precise timing or temperature and don’t mind staying near the stove while your dinner is cooking, you will be happy with a stovetop cooker. You can even use your stovetop pressure cooker over the campfire on camping trips.
For an excellent, stovetop pressure cooker that has dual pressure settings, consider the Fagor Duo Stainless-Steel 6-quart unit. It is dishwasher safe, comes with useful accessories and a recipe book. $75.31 at Amazon.com.
- The electric pressure cooker is easy to use, freeing you from monitoring the stove while you cook. Electric units switch off automatically when the cooking cycle is done, and release pressure slowly. However, electric units can be unpredictable in pressure levels, causing food to cook unevenly. Electric models also have nonstick linings, which can scratch, stain or pit if handled incorrectly or used to cook acidic foods. Electric pressure cookers are also more expensive, have a shorter lifespan than a stovetop model and take up room on your countertop. If you want the fast cooking speed and healthy preparation of a pressure cooker, but don’t want to be chained to your stove, worry about getting the pressure and timing just right or just prefer the ease of pushing a button, an electric pressure cooker will serve your needs well.
If you prefer an electric pressure cooker, consider the Cuisinart CPC-600 6-quart Pressure Cooker. Loaded with desirable features, it sells for $85.99 at Amazon.com.
The bigger your family, the bigger your pressure cooker needs to be. The most common sizes are:
- 4-Quart: Best for a single person or couple, or making just one side dish.
- 6-Quart: The most popular size, and excellent for an average family. Most pressure cooker recipes are developed for use in a 6-quart cooker.
- 8-Quart: Useful for a large family, or making very large batches of food.
You want your pressure cooker to be easy and safe to use, as well as provide a quick, delicious meal. Look for the following features to improve your cooking experience.
Dual Pressure Settings: Look for a model that has both low and high-pressure settings. The high setting should not be less than 15 psi. At 15 psi, the temperature of the boiling water inside the pressure cooker is increased from the normal 212 degrees Fahrenheit to nearly 250 degrees. This speeds up the cooking process, while maintaining the flavor and nutrients of the food. Most recipes for pressure cookers assume a setting of 15 psi.
Simple Lid Lock: The cover should be easy to lock in place, with no complicated clamps or instructions.
Handles: The handles should be easy to grasp, and allow you to lift the pot without being burned.
Easy Clean: Look for a pressure cooker that is dishwasher safe.
Safety: Your pressure cooker should have safety release valves, a safety lock on the lid and UL-approval.
Accessories: The two most useful and common accessories included with many pressure cookers are steamer baskets, which are great for preparing vegetables or delicate foods like fish, and cooking racks, which lift food to keep it from burning on the bottom of the cooker and are especially necessary if you are cooking on an electric stove.
It’s time to forget those scary memories and give pressure cookers another look. Easier to use, safer than ever and modernized for healthy, fast cooking, pressure cookers are a great way to make your hectic weekday dinners a little bit easier.
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