Perfect Under Pressure - Urban Farmer's Almanac
Give Pressure Cooking Another Look
Pressure cookers don’t get the attention they deserve – especially in today’s pressure cooker society. Sure, you’ve heard a story or two about cookers bursting undress pressure. But those were the old-school models. Today’s cookers are built for safety and convenience, making it possible to cook a full meal in a quarter of the time. You can even use today’s pressure cookers to do some canning.
What are Pressure Cookers?
The first pressure cooker was invented in France over 300 years ago. By the early 1900s, pressure cookers were being used to quickly and efficiently cook large amounts of food at schools and restaurants across America. Pressure canning caught on when the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the method a big thumbs-up, determining that pressure canners were a great way to can meats and other foods for longer periods of time.
A word about Pressure Canning Meats: The focus of this article is mostly about cooking with pressure canner. Pressure cookers are different from pressure canners. Pressure canners, like the models available at Coastal, are designed to maintain accurate pressures and temperatures for canning. Pressure canners can be used for pressure cooking, although pressure cookers cannot be used for canning. Canning meats with a pressure canner requires attention to certain details not covered in this article. Please take a moment to review this important information about canning meats and other low acid foods with your pressure cooker.
In 1945, the Presto Company introduced America to a pressure cooker that resembled a saucepan. Yes, it was small enough for anyone to use. And yes, it did cook dinners quickly and efficiently. But quite a few of them exploded, which is why so many people shy away from pressure cookers today.
Pressure Cooking Really Works
If you paid attention during high school science, you know that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course that fluctuates a bit depending on your elevation, but no matter when that water boils it turns into a gas and evaporates. That means you can never heat the water beyond boiling – unless you put it under pressure.
By boiling water in a pressure cooker, you’re trapping the molecules and increasing their velocity. That’s more high school science, but overall that just means that the water vapor has nowhere to go and the molecules speed up – turning up the heat to 250 degrees.
These higher temperatures cook food faster. They also keep food moist. Even the toughest meats, like venison, will come out tender. Surprisingly, pressure-cooking also browns food, adding flavor to many of your favorite meals.
Get to Know Your Pressure Cooker
Once you start pressure-cooking, you’re going to get the urge to try things on your own. Don’t do it. Follow recipes exactly for a while until you get the hang of it. Yes, you can cook a 3-hour pot roast in 45 minutes, but adding too much of one ingredient can throw the whole meal out of whack.
When you’re ready to do things on your own, just be sure you don’t overfill your cooker. This can block safety vents and cause other issues. Remember, just like conventional steamers, the more you cut up your food the faster it will cook. This goes for meats and starches too. And like a stew, adding ingredients at different times is necessary. If you don’t wait to add the vegetables until later, you’ll end up with a gooey mess.
Let Off Some Steam
Today’s pressure cookers are built for safety, but it’s up to you to maintain it. First, never put too much into your pressure cooker. This can block the pressure release valves. Second, always clean your cooker properly. The gasket is one of the most important parts of any pressure cooker. If yours develops any cracks, replace it. If you see any food attached to the gasket, clean it off. Without a proper seal, your pressure cooker will not work. Third, always release pressure carefully.
Releasing pressure is at the core of pressure-cooking. You can either remove your cooker from its heat source and allow it to depressurize over time, or use the steam release valve. If you choose the valve, always use a potholder to avoid being burned. And keep your face away from the steam.
We do not recommend using the "cold water pressure release" method, whereby the pressure cooker is cooled by running cold water over the lid.
Want to try pressure-cooking your next meal? Coastal has your cooker, and canning supplies, in stock at a store near you. Just ask about pressure cookers when you walk in the door and our knowledgeable folk will point you in the right direction.
Never overfill: keep safety vents clear to do their job. Never fill your cooker more than two-thirds full.
Limit frothing and swelling: beans and grains swell with steam. Additionally, pastas, rhubarb, oatmeal, and applesauce can froth. Play it safe and limit the amount you add to your pressure cooker at one time to avoid covering release valves.
Frying isn’t recommended: some recipes may call for vegetable oil, but anything more than a few tablespoons can melt gaskets and other parts.
Liquid is the key: it helps build the necessary pressure. Be sure there is at least ½ cup of water or other liquid in your pressure cooker before closing it up.
Store your lid upside down in the cooker: this helps add life to your cooker’s gasket.
The 1-Hour Pot Roast
One of the most loved pressure cooker recipes is a pot roast. Prep time is about 15 minutes with dinner ready in 45 minutes. Yum!
- Combine the following into your pressure cooker:
- 3-pound boneless roast
- 1 pinch salt, pepper, and onion powder
- 14.5 ounces beef broth
- 1.5 tablespoons Worcestershire
Cook over medium-high until pressure is achieved. Then, bring heat to low and cook for 30 minutes. Quick release the pressure in your cooker and add the following:
1 large onion cut into fours
4-5 large carrots and potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
Close the top and bring heat back up. Then cook on low for 15 minutes to finish cooking a meal the whole family will love.