(BPT) - There’s nothing like the smell of a home-cooked meal wafting through the kitchen for hours and hours – that is, if you have time to prepare such a meal. Since most of us don’t have that sort of time on a daily basis, many time-pressed cooks are rediscovering pressure cooking: an age-old cooking method that makes mealtime fast and easy.
You may recall your mother or even your grandmother talking about using the pressure cookers of old, sometimes with unexpected results. A pressure cooker uses steam to cook foods. Available in stovetop or electric models, they both work on the same principle: foods and liquids are placed inside a pot that has a pressurized chamber, and the steam transfers heat to the foods. The pressure builds up inside the pot to cook food at a high temperature, while allowing the food to retain its moisture and nutritional value. When cooking is complete, the steam can be vented using a release valve, before the lid is opened.
Recently, pressure cookers have evolved to include many built-in conveniences and safety features that simplify the cooking process. Today, more home cooks are taking advantage of these cooking marvels, not only because they cook foods faster than most conventional methods, but also because they bring out the delicious flavor of foods and preserve inherent nutrients.
Today’s advanced pressure cookers can be used to prepare anything from meats and main courses to fresh vegetables, potatoes or even desserts. And because they cook foods faster, they use less energy, providing a “greener” way of cooking. In short, a pressure cooker enables a user to prepare recipes in less than half the time, while locking in flavors and preserving vitamins and minerals. This means a pot roast, sweet potatoes, or even cheesecake recipe worthy of Julia Child can be done in record time, making pressure-cooking perfect for busy weeknight meals.
Manufacturers are increasingly taking the guesswork out of pressure-cooking with intuitive features that make it easy to prepare delicious, nutritious meals in a flash. For example, Calphalon’s 6-quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker has a cover that locks on with the touch of a button, and a pop-up pressure indicator that makes it easy to monitor cooking times. The cooker also has a pressure release dial that lets you select from multiple settings for cooking, and to safely release the steam after you’re finished.
If you’re new at using a pressure cooker, here are some general tips to get you started:
* Cut foods evenly: Uniform pieces cook most evenly.
* Don’t overfill: Aim for a pot no more than two-thirds full of food. Be sure to use the recommended amount of liquid called for in the recipe.
* Adjust spices: Flavors are more concentrated with this cooking method, so you may want to reduce the amount of spices you use in your favorite recipes.
* Brown meats first: For especially tasty pressure-cooked meats, sear and brown the meat before placing it in the pressure cooker to obtain the best flavor and texture.
* Secure the lid: Make sure it’s properly closed and locked before you begin cooking.
* Experiment with recipes you love. Try cooking in incremental stages, starting with the shortest recommended cooking time; you can always cook for a more minutes if needed.
* Consult the manufacturer’s manual: Read and follow the instructions for the specific model you purchased.