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When the pressure's on, some cooks turn to a pressure cooker

If you're short of time for cooking, a pressure cooker can cut the usual meal preparation time considerably, sometimes in half. For example, pot roasts can be cooked in about 1 hour. Stews will cook in less than an hour. Soups need only about 45 minutes instead of the normal 3 hours in a regular pot in order to cook ingredients well and allow the flavors to blend.

Pressure cookers use steam under pressure at temperatures higher than the normal boiling point. A control valve limits pressure to 5, 10, or 15 pounds per square inch. (When correct pressure is reached, the control will jiggle or rock gently.)

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This means foods can be cooked without much looking and checking. If set at 15 pounds, for example, the contents in the pan will rise to about 250 degrees F., well above the boiling point of water.

Foods are thus cooked quickly while flavors are retained.

Most pans hold 4 or 6 quarts. However, it is best not to fill them more than two-thirds to three-fourths full. Larger models for canning are available.

Some foods are excellent when prepared in the pressure cooker, but others do not fare so well. Applesauce, rhubarb, cranberries, pearl barley, split peas, and pea soup should not be cooked in this appliance because they tend to froth or sputter and sometimes block the vent tubes.

Most models have a safety pressure release that prevents the pressure from going too high even if the regular pressure regulator becomes clogged and doesn't work.

After you become familiar with the cooker you will probably learn some of the variations. For example, often more water can be added for certain meats. A full cup of water is listed for roasts, but if using a rack, the amount of water can be increased to 1 1/4 cups.

A low or medium setting on the electric stove or a simmer on a gas stove helps keep the control at the proper setting. Saucy Round Steak 3 tablespoons flour 3/4 teaspoon salt Dash pepper 1 1/2 pounds round steak (3/4-inch thick) 2 tablespoons shortening 1 cup canned tomatoes 2 cups onion, sliced 1/2 cup green pepper, diced 1/2 cup celery, diced 1 small clove garlic, minced 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup water

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Combine flour, salt, and pepper. Cut steak into individual servings. Pound as much of the dry ingredients as possible into the steak. Brown steak in hot shortening in pressure cooker.

Combine remaining ingredients and pour over meat. Cover, set control, and cook 25 minutes after the control jiggles. Cool pan for 5 minutes, then place pan under faucet before opening lid.

Serves 4. Texas Cabbage Rolls 8 large cabbage leaves 1 pound ground beef 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 2 tablespoons onion, chopped 1 cup cooked rice 1 egg 1 (10 1/2 ounce) can condensed tomato soup 3/4 cup water

Pour boiling water over cabbage leaves. Let stand for 5 minutes, then drain. Season meat; add onion, rice, and egg. Roll a portion of filling into each leaf, fasten ends with toothpicks.

Place cabbage rolls on rack in the pressure cooker. Pour tomato soup and water over rolls.

Cover, set control, and cook 8 minutes after control jiggles. Reduce pressure normally for 5 minutes and then place pan under faucet before opening lid.

Serves 4.

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