The pressure cooker has never been more timely. It gets foods to the table long before conventional cooking does; it is user-friendly, tenderizes tough cuts of meat, and requires little fat - which just about covers every modern cooking concern!
Extremely versatile (check out the manufacturer's instruction booklets), pressure cookers produce flavorful soups, stews, beans, grains, meats, fresh vegetables, and fruit dishes - even risotto.
Food cooks faster under pressure because it reaches higher temperatures. At sea level, food cooks at 212° (boiling); at a pressure cooker's maximum pressure (15 lb.), the temperature rises to 250°. The pressure is regulated by the amount of heat under the pan and by a valve or weight that controls the release of steam through a small vent. The type of valve varies among brands. Most models have a choice of settings that produce different temperatures. All pressure cookers are easy to operate, but for safety it is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Exploring the options
Pressure cookers are available in 2- to 12-quart sizes, and range in price from $50 to more than $200. A 6-quart pan is adequate for recipes that serve six. If you frequently cook for large groups, however, choose an 8- to 12-quart pan.
Pressure cookers are sold in housewares sections of department stores and in cookware and hardware stores.
Before you cook
Learn how the lid and handle fit together, how the pressure valve works, and how to clean the steam release opening. Call the manufacturer or retailer if the owner's manual is unclear.
Most manufacturers advise filling the pan no more than two-thirds full. Foods that tend to foam and block the vent are not recommended for pressure cooking - for example, applesauce, cranberries, oatmeal and other cereals, pasta, barley, rhubarb, and split peas. In general, foods that you can braise or steam work well. To adapt your favorite recipes to the pressure cooker, consult the manufacturer's instructions for cooking times and liquid amounts.
If you have a vintage pressure cooker:
1. Make sure the pan bottom is flat and the handles and pressure vent are free of cracks and nicks.
2. Check the gasket. If it is dried out or won't seal, soak it in hot water for 20 minutes, then dry it and rub it with salad oil. If it's still stiff, discard it and buy a new gasket.
For information about Mirro and Wearever pressure cookers, call (800) 527-7727; to order new parts, call the Cook's Corner Factory Outlet at (800) 236-2433. For Presto pressure cooker information, call (800) 877-0441.