A dear old friend wrote in a few weeks ago, reacting to my suggestion that we dig out our old crockpots. She went one better in pantry digging: The pressure cooker.
Now, I will tell you in all honesty that I made the very face youíre likely making now. Pressure cooker? No, she pressed me. I had to try it. In every other way this particular woman has guided me flawlessly in life. I had to humor her. Had to. Could not snub my nose at her suggestion. Much as I wanted to. And I gotta tell you, I wanted to.
I had one image in my head, and you likely have it too. Remember Audrey Hepburn trying to make a meal for George Peppard? Was it osso bucco? And the pressure cooker exploding in her sparse little flat, leaving food clinging to ceilings and walls? Did I want to go there, brothers and sisters? I did not.
My mother, who gave birth to a hyperactive first child interested in exploring how things worked as they were working, was terrified of them, and we never had one in our house. I never learned to use one, and couldnít imagine why I would want to now. But my friend, ever wise, got me with this hook:
Lamb shanks perfectly tender in 20 minutes.
Whaaa??? Well, okay, maybe I would look into it some day.
Some day came as she handed me her brand new, new age pressure cooker, AND the lamb shanks. I never gave it back. After keeping it for more than a month and cooking with it nearly every day, I had a new one sent to my buddy, and cleared a permanent spot on my counter for the one she loaned to me.
Oh my goodness. Crockpot? Please. Rice steamer? No way. This is it, babies. My steel-cut oat groats, which I used to wait for an hour to cook into porridge, is ready in 15 minutes. Pearled barley in 20. Brown rice in 10. A tender 3-lb. Pot Roast is not a 2 hour affair, but a 40 minute meal. Your Pot au Feu, your Cacciatore, your Coc au Vin and Country Captain are 20 minute meals, with flavors more intense, veggies more colorful, grains more perfect than using the methods Iíve come to rely on.
I havenít even started on the soups, which is the whole reason many people own these things. They also get them to quickly cook vegetables into baby-food softness, pressure cooking preserving more of the nutrients than any other cooking method. Also to make steamed bread. Boston brown bread. Boston brown bread. Boston brown bread. Oh mama. Maybe I wonít try that one.
As with any tool, there are different sorts of pressure cookers that offer different benefits. There are techniques to learn, safety measures to observe. Everything you need to know about pressure cooking, along with lots and lots of wonderful recipes, is available at missvickie.com, a website thatís sort of an overgrown English garden of advice and instructions. Inviting and comforting.
Miss Vickie doesnít recommend the pot I fell for. My first pressure cooker is the one my very busy working mom buddy recommended, an electric Farberware pressure cooker, which can be programmed at two pressure settings and one steaming setting, has a non-stick interior, and four billion safety locks and release valves. Despite Miss Vickieís objections to electric and non-stick pots, this baby is a busy and distractable personís best friend. You can program it and walk away without fear. It beeps at you when itís done. It beeps at you when itís released its own pressure. Itís polite and quiet, and a good first pot for anyone with that exploding pressure cooker scene alive in her head.
My SECOND pressure cooker is one Miss Vickie approves of, a 7-quart Kuhn Rikon, stovetop model, big enough to make large batches of soup, and to take that 3-lb. roast, and manage Coq au Vin for eight. It will also cook a half a cup of quinoa, because when cooking under pressure, itty bits do as well as big batches.
All of the new models have vastly improved safety features over the ones your grandma learned to fear. But they still do what your grandma knew they would — cook things in one third of the time, preserving nutrients, making real food doable and more healthful quickly.
No, I wonít loan you my cooker. Donít even ask.