The main benefit of using a pressure cooker is that it considerably reduces food cooking times, helping long recipes to be made more quickly. In addition, the savings in gas – or electricity, depending on the type of stove you have at home – can also be considerable in the long run.
How does the pressure cooker work? By having an airtight seal, plus a valve that allows the controlled release of water vapor, the temperature inside the pot exceeds the 100º Celsius that a conventional pan reaches, and can reach 110º or 120º Celsius. Thus, with this higher temperature, cooking times are shortened.
Its detractors claim that the high temperatures would kill some nutrients in the food, which would result in a less intense flavor in the products that have passed through this cooking device. The truth? If that is true, it occurs in a range imperceptible to the palate. In fact, two recipes of the same dish, one prepared in a conventional cooker and the other in a pressure cooker, are identical in taste, aroma and appearance.
To know the exact cooking time that each product needs in the pressure cooker, it is best to pay attention to the time tables that come with the instructions of each manufacturer: they may vary depending on the characteristics of each model. For everything else, here are some facts about the multiple uses that the pressure cooker can have in our kitchen.
The preparation of various meat-based recipes, cooked for hours in a casserole, is famous all over the world. Perhaps the most recognized is the French boeuf bourguignon, but there is also the Spanish carne en salsa and the very Chilean carne a la cacerola, to which we could also add two emblematic recipes of our gastronomy: the plateada en olla and the carne mechada.
Beyond the particular characteristics of each of these recipes, what unites them all is that in their preparation it is necessary, at least, a couple of hours of cooking. However, they can also be made in a pressure cooker, with cooking times that reach – at most – up to forty minutes.
There are, however, some precautions to be taken when cooking meat in a pressure cooker. The most important is to make sure that the volume of meat and other ingredients only reaches half of the pot. In addition, the cooking liquid should not cover it completely. In this way we leave enough space for the steam to rise to the outlet valve properly and the meat to cook -and tenderize- in a few minutes. Another recommendation is not to add too much salt to the preparations until they are finished cooking, because the evaporation process concentrates the flavors and they could be over-salted.
Beyond saving time in these recipes, the truth is that there are some cuts or “by-products”, as they were called in the old butcher shops, that need to be cooked in a pressure cooker. I am thinking of things like beef tongues, legs, tripe (guatitas) and osso buco, which are generally quite tough and require long cooking times to be tender. In a pressure cooker, fortunately, it takes less than an hour.
It should also be considered that in several of these recipes, after cooking the meats, it is necessary to continue with other preparations or even to let the cooked food cool and then serve it at room temperature, as in the case of malaya or huaso rolls, which must be cooked in a pressure cooker. Thus, any time saving we can have is welcome.
As we can see, we associate the use of the pressure cooker with meats that need a lot of temperature and cooking time to be tender. In fact, this appliance is often thought of as a synonym of meat “tenderizer”. But it is also useful when cooking vegetables. For example, with the most heat-resistant vegetables, such as artichokes or beets, and even with potatoes, which in the pressure cooker are ready -more or less- after twenty minutes. But be careful, chard, green beans, peppers and many “soft” vegetables can also be cooked quickly and are ready in just five or six minutes.
The WHO recommendation is to consume legumes twice a week. But of course, cooking beans, lentils or chickpeas requires a lot of time: first you have to soak the legumes for at least a couple of hours – or overnight – and then cook them in a pot for a long time.
But if you cook them in a pressure cooker, they will be ready in less than half an hour. However, if you want to add some kind of sausage to the vegetables, it is best to add them to the pot at the end of the whole process and, uncovered, give them some more cooking time. And be careful, when preparing them, it is recommended to add little salt at the beginning of the recipe and, if necessary, correct the seasoning at the end.
Before the delicacy could be bought in any supermarket, the truth is that it was hard to find. That is why it was prepared at home, and for that there were two possibilities. To make it the traditional way, that is, by cooking milk with lots of sugar and stirring and stirring for hours: something not easy and that only a few people could do.
The other option was simpler and therefore more popular: put a jar of condensed milk in the pressure cooker. How to do this? Very easy. You put a jar of condensed milk (without the paper label) in the bottom of the pot and then cover it with water, not more than half its capacity. Then cover it and place it over high heat until steam starts coming out of the valve. Then lower the heat and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Then turn off and remove the pot from the heat, wait until all the steam comes out and finally open it. Remove the jar with tongs and let it cool at room temperature for three to four hours. Finally we can open the jar and have a perfect delicacy without the need to stir and stir for hours.
Many pressure cookers include an accessory that nobody really knows what it is for. It is a rack with legs, which is placed at the bottom of the cooker, and allows a space between the bottom and the cooker. What is its function? To cook food -mainly vegetables and fish- by steaming. This is done by adding cold water to the steamer, without touching the rack. Then put the vegetables or fish in it. Cover and place over high heat until steam starts coming out of the valve. The fire is lowered and in ten minutes, approximately, the dish will be ready.
Tajine is a traditional North African dish with a variety of ingredients, such as lamb, carrots, zucchini, onions, plums, apricots and more. It is a very slow-cooking recipe, which includes a variety of seasonings and spices. However, in addition to the time it takes to cook, another essential feature of tajín is that it is made in a special container, which bears the same name and has a conical lid. But if you don’t have a tajín at hand, it can also be prepared in a pressure cooker. The best thing is that instead of the traditional hour and a half or two that it takes in the traditional way, in the pressure cooker it will be ready in about 35 to 40 minutes. On YouTube it is possible to find numerous tutorials to develop this recipe.
Maintenance and care
The pressure cooker is not the same as a normal saucepan, so it is advisable to take some care. Basically, these are precautions to take when washing it and then putting it on the fire.
As for the rubber that goes in the lid, and that makes possible its hermetic closing, it is recommended -once washed- to dry it with a clean cloth and then to oil it with a little cooking oil. This way, it will be easier to open the pot in its next use.
The other important thing is to wash the valve of the pot very well, taking special care at the moment of rinsing it with cold water. If there are soap residues or even lint from the sponge or dishcloth, it could become clogged in its next use, which is dangerous. And last but not least: always be careful with the steam coming out of the pan while cooking. Keep your distance and do not allow children to get close to it. Also, once you have finished cooking, wait until all the steam has escaped before opening the pot.