Despite its many qualities, the pressure cooker has been one of those kitchen gadgets most people fear. Some of us have memories of a pressure cooker disaster that ended with the dinner plastered to the kitchen’s walls and ceiling, and maybe some bodily harm. Because of these types of stories, many of us have given pressure cookers a very wide berth. But it’s time to allay these fears. With today’s technology, pressure cookers are safer and easier to use.
People have been pressure cooking for centuries. In the early days, people used to put stones on the lid of a hot pot because they knew the higher the heat inside the pot, the faster the food would cook. Pressure cookers as we know them today were first invented in the 17th century by Denis Papin, a Frenchman who was trying to find a way to demonstrate the physics behind pressure and steam. He called it the “digester,” but it was far from safe. Fast forward a couple of centuries and we have safer cookers that can be used on the stovetop or plugged into an outlet. A regular pot is capable of reaching a boiling temperature of only about 212°F, whereas a pressure cooker can reach a temperature of 250°F. And when you’re using a pressure cooker, very little water is used; this water produces steam and this steam creates pressure because it’s not released. In this way, food cooks about 10 times faster than if you were to put something in a regular pot or oven.
Nowadays, people are wanting to eat healthier, and pressure cookers are one of the best ways to achieve this. Lynn Hillaby, owner of Hillaby’s Tools for Cooks, says that pressure cookers have come a long way in technology, and she’s getting a lot of interest in them. “People have busy lives, and slow cookers take a lot of time planning ahead. And if you go to work during the day, your slow cooker’s on when no one’s home,” she explains. Lynn says it’s a great way to keep the nutrients in your food because they’re not cooked away as in regular cooking, but forced back into food due to the pressure—you’re not throwing out the water that has all the nutrients from your just-boiled vegetables. Not only does the food sort of marinate in its own vitamins and minerals, but also the steam goes into the food making it tender and intensifying the flavour.
Yes, gone are the days when you have to take cover behind a door when you feel brave enough to cook with a pressure cooker. Today’s pressure cookers come with safety features that ensure that the lid will remain locked until the machine is fully depressurized—and quick cooking times mean energy efficiency. Lynn says that her friend uses a stovetop pressure cooker when he’s on his boat because it uses very little gas, and if the boat hits a wave, the pot is sealed tight so nothing spills. As long as you follow the instructions—especially about not overfilling the pot—using a pressure cooker will be the easiest way to prepare a tasty, nutrient-rich meal. And if you believe the pressure cooker won’t be able to accommodate your favourite recipes, don’t worry. Most of them can be converted for the pressure cooker by decreasing the cooking time by about two-thirds. However, cooks will have to get used to being unable to taste-test or stir their meals during cooking time, giving almost complete trust in the process of pressure cooking.
If you’re intrigued about using a pressure cooker but are still feeling intimidated, attend Lynn’s demonstration at her store on March 11th, 25th and April 2nd. If she feels confident enough to try it in a public place, then pressure cookers can’t be all that bad.