When you are under pressure to save time and money in the kitchen
Quick Meals with a Pressure Cooker
by Susan Peterson Gateley
Pressure Cooker Recipes and Resources
Why You Should Use a Pressure Cooker
When the cook's under pressure to save time and money, try using a pressure cooker for a quick meal.
I was reluctant to try a pressure cooker as it seemed like an expensive and potentially hazardous and complicated kitchen gadget. I first ventured into trying one on our boat, where I had to use expensive slow cooking alcohol fuel. Now the pot gets used a lot more at home than it does on the boat. The first test meal, Swiss style pork chops with mustard, was a revelation. It took seven minutes on the lowest possible setting of an alcohol stove. The meat was tender, flavorful and moist, and I was an instant convert to cooking under pressure.
The speed, nutrition and variety of possible one-pot meals offered by a pressure cooker are real advantages for cooks on the go. It is an excellent way to tenderize tough (cheap) meat and high fiber foods like beans, and many a new mother swears by it as a baby food factory. You can decide exactly what goes into your baby's system yourself if you're queasy about genetically modified foods or other issues associated with commercially prepared foods.
The pressure cooker also presents interesting inexpensive options for vegetarian meals. I can now prepare a pot of split pea soup in 15 minutes without presoaking the peas.
Chili with dry beans takes a little longer, but it's doable. Nutritional tasty brown rice using the pressure cooker only takes about 20 minutes. I guess every pressure cooker chef has his or her own favorite food. Some like it for cooking venison or tough old laying hens. My particular favorite is beets, which used to take hours to cook!
Because the food is heated to 250 degrees at fifteen pounds pressure it cooks fast, a third or less conventional cooking time. It also cooks in a virtually anaerobic environment and the low amount of oxygen in the pot helps preserve vitamins and nutrients. This sealed environment also contributes to the intensity of flavors present in pressure-cooked foods.
Modern pressure cookers have benefited as a result of technological advances. Lower end pots still use the old jiggle top to regulate pressure while more expensive cookers use a spring valve to hold and regulate pressure. These are somewhat self-cleaning and are less likely to get clogged by foaming food. The spring-loaded valves also allow more precision in cooking. On my pot the pressure valve stem shows two red rings. When only one ring shows you are operating at eight pounds pressure, with two rings the pot is at fifteen pounds. This eliminates guessing as to whether you have reached a full head of steam or not. Some foods, because they foam, should only be cooked at 8 pounds lest they clog the valve. For the same reason you should also never fill the pot more than half to two thirds full. The cookbooks will usually caution you about this. The lid gasket is also critical to safe effective pressure-cooking and must be kept clean and free from distortion.
Because of the speed at which your food cooks at a low setting, you save energy and therefore money with a pressure cooker. According to one manufacturer, the pot will pay for itself in a year if you cook one meal a week of something like chili or a pot roast that normally takes a long slow oven. Using actual prices for power from California, the manufacturer claims a savings of 82 cents a meal or $42.64 in a year. And the food tastes great! Of course, if you do one-pot meals like soup or stew, then you save even more money and energy.
When your food is cooked you have two choices, usually specified in the recipe, to get at your meal. One is to simply let the pot sit for 5 to 10 minutes and cool down. This is the so-called Natural Release Method. The other is the Cold Water Release method where you run cold water over the top of the pot to depressurize it. You can also depressurize spring loaded valve equipped cookers simply by pushing down on the valve-assuming the cookers have a shield to deflect steam away from the valve.
You can spend as little as $20 on a pressure cooker on sale or up to a $100 for a high-end stainless steel Swiss made pot. The pricier pot has some nice features. However, if you read and follow the directions in the booklet that comes with your new appliance, the food will taste just as good from a basic aluminum model.
Here are a few of the more successful meals we've enjoyed.
Mushrooms and Rice
This is a meatless meal, but you could certainly add chicken to this recipe.
In a 2-quart pressure cooker, heat 1 TBS olive oil over medium high heat, add onion and sautè until translucent.
Add 1 cup white rice and stir until lightly golden. Add 1 cup of sliced mushrooms and stir. Add 1/4 cup dry white wine, a can of diced tomatoes, and 2 cups of water or (better) chicken broth. Use herbs to season, such as basil and thyme (dried or fresh) and stir until the mixture comes to a boil.
Close lid and bring pressure to first red ring over high heat. Then stabilize pressure at first red ring. Cook for 7 minutes
Use cold water release method
Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, fresh if you can get it, and serve
Split Pea Soup
You will need one large onion (chopped), two carrots that are peeled and chopped, a couple cloves of garlic, and one cup of green split peas, rinsed and soaked for at least 3-4 hours before hand. (I get away without soaking them and increase cooking time a bit) You also need 2 1/2 cups of chicken stock or water.
Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. For the optional non-vegetarian version, add a cup of diced ham. Mix together carrots, peas and stock. Then add garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir until mixture comes to a boil. Do not fill pressure cooker more than half full.
Close lid and bring pressure to first red ring and adjust heat to stabilize. Cook for 15 minutes. (Split peas will foam so don't cook at higher pressure.)
Remove from heat and use Natural Release Method
Swiss Style Pork Chops
Spread each side of pork chop with mustard. Heat olive oil over high heat in pressure cooker. Add the pork chops and cook until browned on one side. Turn the pork chops.
Close lid and bring pressure to first red ring over high heat.
Adjust heat to stabilize pressure at first red ring. Cook for 7 minutes, remove from heat and use touch release method.
Take the Next Step
- Find a great deal on a pressure cooker.
- Continue to look for new ways to trim food costs. Visit our food & groceries section each week to get tips for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.