Cooking Under Pressure?

Debbie Melvin  |  7/30/2010 1:44:20 AM

Gone are the days of June Cleaver slaving all day over a hot stove to put the perfect evening meal on the table. If you are caught in a time crunch, a pass by the neighborhood fast food chain may be tempting. But research shows that families who eat hamburgers and other fast foods on a regular basis are at risk for many chronic diseases because of poor diet quality and the high fat and high sodium content of their diets.

Kitchen appliances and cooking techniques have come a long way since June’s day. But one cooking utensil that has unjustly lost its reputation through the years is the pressure cooker. Those who use pressure cookers on a regular basis swear by them for saving time and effort in the kitchen. Cooking times are typically reduced by two-thirds or more. It seems almost miraculous that you can cook a whole chicken in 15 minutes or make beef stew in just 20 minutes.

Pressure cooking means healthier cooking because you can use little or no fat in the dishes. Also, many of the vitamins and minerals are not cooked away since the food is cooked in a very short time with little added liquid. Shorter cooking times also mean less use of cooking energy (gas or electricity) so you save money and produce less heat in the kitchen on warm-weather days.

Forget the horror stories you’ve heard of exploding pots. Today’s pressure cookers have many built-in safety features that completely eliminate the dangers associated with older pots. With newer models, it is impossible to open the lid until the pressure is down. The newer models have a quick release mechanism that uses a one-piece spring valve. The one-piece valve is much safer because it is easier to release the valve without burning yourself and it cannot clog.

But if you “inherited” an older pot, be sure to follow a few extra safety tips. Do not attempt to open the lid while the cooker is still under pressure. Most recipes call for placing the cooker in the sink and running cold water over the lid to quickly bring the pressure down so the lid may be opened. If the cooker you have has a moving or “jiggling” weight, be sure not to remove it until the pressure is down.

There are several brands and types of pressure cookers available, but most people agree that you should buy the best quality that you can afford. The second generation cookers are more expensive than the first generation, but definitely a worthwhile investment because they have the built-in safety features. A heavy-bottomed cooker is less likely to have a sticking problem than a lighter weight cooker, just as with regular cookware. The six quart size is appropriate for most families.

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