Pressure’s on


Seems like everyone's under a lot of pressure these days. We're crushing under the weight of a monumentally historic election, with real issues that affect real people's everyday lives. Our backs are breaking from the Sisyphean effort of keeping our moods and bank accounts buoyant while the market repeatedly plummets.

But pressure isn't always a bad thing. Without significant pressure, diamonds would be mere drab lumps of carbon. And pressure can be judiciously applied in the kitchen to great effect.

Like many people, I cast a wary eye toward pressure cookers for many years, envisioning madcap Lucille Ball-esque scenarios of exploding lids and volcanic eruptions of lava-hot food. But modern-day pressure cookers are both safe and easy to use, and an extremely handy appliance for those looking to economize both their time and money. After some research on DPaul's part, we purchased the Fagor 3-in-1 Electric Multi-Cooker, a countertop pressure, rice and slow cooker all in one. It's our new favorite toy.

I've already alluded once to our use of the pressure cooker, when we made molha. In that case, it reduced the cooking time from a couple of hours down to just 20 minutes at high pressure, plus the time to cool down, so about 45 minutes total. Moreover, only 20 minutes of that was actively consuming energy electricity to be precise, versus a matter of hours burning dead dinosaurs.

But that's nothing. For our first foray into pressure cookery, we made a simple vegetable soup: A bunch of vegetables, like green beans, potatoes, what have you, enough stock or water to cover, a good dollop of tomato puree, and seasoning to taste. Lid on, and the soup was done in three minutes. Three minutes! Hard veggies like potato and carrot were tender; softer vegetables retained their structure.

In our first weekend we made several different things: Soup, molha, chicken stock, beans. Everything turned out spectacularly. Beef, in particular, turns out butter-soft; I think the high heat breaks down the connective tissue, but the short cooking time prevents proteins from toughening.

As with any appliance, there are techniques to optimize results. We're still learning all the tricks, but a couple of basic tricks go a long way:

  • Be liberal with your seasoning. Pressure cookery can deaden the flavor of herbs, especially dry ones, so use a heavier hand than you normally might.
  • Protein-y foods (i.e., meats and beans) require that the pressure drop normally lest they toughen; vegetables can withstand quick-release.
  • The less liquid you use, the faster you will come to pressure. You'll generally need less liquid than you think, though you do need at least several ounces to generate enough steam to build pressure.

And so the adventure begins. I've added a pressure cooking tag, so keep an eye on our exploits. Got any tips for us?


Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo (my beans of choice) is not so much a fan of pressure cooking beans, but admits it's a fave of pressure cooker goddess Lorna Sass and millions others worldwide. 

Kalyn just got a new pressure cooker, too, and is eager to put it to the test. She also posts a great roundup of pressure cooker recipes at BlogHer.

Robbo at Serious Eats also just got a pressure cooker. It's the new black!

  • Fascinating! So can you do canning in a pressure cooker like this? Or do you need an actual pressure canner? I imagine this machine wouldn’t hold many jars.

  • Erica P.

    Um — okay I have just sent the word out that this is what I want for Christmas. I’ve also alerted the rest of the Pittman family to your blog, so be prepared for Pitt-wackiness in your comments threads.

  • Pretty! But my mind just boggles at three-minute soup!
    Don’t forget what I told Kalyn about pressure-cooking artichokes with very little water, and a handful of aromatics (garlic, chile, herbs, lemon zest) — it really flavors the chokes.
    I’m stunned that your P-cooker doubles as a slow cooker. I’ve always considered slow-cooker dishes to be the… heh, slow… equivalent of P-cooked ones. I’m funny that way, or maybe not.

  • Wow, I am fascinated at the idea of a machine that does all three of those things. I’ve used my pressure cooker for garbanzo beans, and it was great, very fast and beans were very tender. And CC’s artichokes are on my shopping list. Also have your Mohla recipe bookmarked, and I bought Lorna Sass’ book Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure which has some great-looking recipes.
    Pressure cooking is definitely the new black! Oh my mother would be laughing if she could see me now.

  • Ariel: I suppose it’s possible but there is definitely a capacity issue. Plus, pressure canning requires specific amounts of pounds of pressure, and the one we have just has “high” and “low.” I’m sure the manual is specific about the amount of pressure, but who reads anymore?
    Erica: Bring’em! It’s great being back in touch with all of you.
    CC: Thanks for the choke tip! Re: the pressure v. slow, it’s interesting that the pressure cooker can achieve some things the slow cooker does in less time. Slow cooking does allow flavors to develop a little better, of course.
    Kalyn: We haven’t even attempted the other uses yet. Too busy pressure cooking! We even contacted Fagor to see whether it would be possible to buy additional cooking pots so we could cook multiple things. Not available, yet. Bah.

  • Thanks for the report on the pressure cooker! I know you haven’t had it too long but have you had any issues with the non-stick surface (scratches, etc) I have found that some of these appliances use the old-school cheaper coatings that even the silicon spatulas can damage. If the coating is solid I am putting this on my holiday list!!

  • On the Amazon page, it says:
    “Choose between high (9 psi) and low (5 psi) pressure to prepare a great variety of healthy meals in minutes.”
    …you need 11 psi for canning.
    A lot of the preserving books I’ve read say that, capacity aside, pressure pans aren’t good for canning due to structural issues.

  • Erica

    Ooooh — the NYTimes had a fun article about cooking whole meals (bibimap among them) in a rice cooker which look fun to try!

  • I am going to be watching this thread on your blog – I recently rediscovered my long-buried P-cooker in the garage and brought it out for beans one night. I am very interested in learning more and trying new recipes to boot!

  • Thanks, Sean and Anita… so if I ever get around to canning veggies I’ll have to keep the pressure canner on my wish list.
    But still I’m really curious to try beans (black-eyed peas especially) in a pressure cooker now. I cook heaps of BEPs around New Year’s and I’m always looking for new ways to cook ’em.

  • and cool looking to boot! now I want one

  • Yes… dry herbs suck in the pressure cooker… but fresh herbs-OMG! You will be tasting everything in HD! Going to click on your Pressure Cooker tab to see what you have been cooking!