Are you afraid of pressure cooking? I know that I was. Many of us have grown up with family stories of grandma’s pressure canner exploding all over the kitchen–and let’s face it, that’s enough to turn anyone off of a technique! When I got into canning I conquered my fear of pressure canning. . . after about a year.
That’s right, my husband bought me a pressure canner and it sat there for a year before I worked up the guts to try it.
Once I did, I was hooked. Today’s pressure cookers and canners have many safety features that our grandmother’s unit didn’t. Seriously–you don’t have to worry about explosions! But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to pay attention. You do have to watch it come up to temperature, adjust the heat so that it maintains the temperature, and you really aren’t supposed to leave the room with it going–just in case. So I had never really taken the next step and gotten into using a pressure cooker for cooking meals.
I’ve meant to. I’ve wanted to, but I just hadn’t. Then Walmart offered me the chance to try out an Power Cooker electric pressure cooker that they sell in store and online for $79 .
I was totally intrigued. With an electric unit, you can select the pressure and the cooking time and it does the rest for you–brings it up to pressure, times the cooking and then turns itself off. That sounded so easy!
But wait, before we get into using it–you might be wondering “Why? Why use a pressure cooker?” According to Wikipedia (and you KNOW they are always right) there are 5 benefits of a pressure cooker:
- Cooks faster
- Requires less water then boiling
- Uses less energy then boiling, steaming or oven cooking
- Retains more vitamins and minerals (less water and shorter time)
How does it do all this? Well boiling water can only reach a temperature of 212 degrees–but steam under pressure can get hotter then that, and because it’s steam it’s a moist, not drying heat. Here’s the very infomercial-esque video explaining how the power cooker works. (note: I love how tough they make regular cooking look. The pathos!)
To me the two biggest benefits of a pressure cooker are the speed (it’s fast so you can get dinner on the table quickly AND use your electricity for less time to do it) and the fact that it tenderizes meat so well–you can use a cheaper, tougher cut no problem!
For my first experiment with the cooker I bought an inexpensive chuck roast. Of course they didn’t have that specifically in the cook book that came with the cooker so I winged it–threw some veggies on top, added some broth etc. (note: you are cooking with steam-so you need to start with some liquid!)
In just over an hour (it does have to build up pressure for a little bit) it beeped that it was done. I used a long handled spoon and following the directions in the manual I carefully pushed on the vent release–first giving it a couple of short bursts and then leaving it open to vent the rest. Once it’s completely vented the Power Cooker would finally let me unlock and open it. The meat was cooked–you can see above how some layers of it even started pulling apart!
Next was the test: Cutting it open.
As you can see, it was still a bit rare in the middle, and it wasn’t quite as tender as I had hoped. I think the problem was my kinda winging it on the time and using such a large piece of meat. It was quite tasty and not super tough or anything, but it wasn’t the melt in your mouth goodness I had been hoping for.
A neat extra benefit–there is a “brown” setting on the pot so folks can brown meat in the pot (which gives extra flavor) before pressure cooking it. Well I added some extra broth and a cornstarch slurry and used the brown function to bring it to a quick boil with the rest of the liquid left from cooking in order to make a gravy. Simple, and all in the same pot!
So I decided I had to give the pot a second chance because by not following the directions I didn’t really get a good feeling for what it could do. This time I decided to see how it worked on frozen solid chicken breasts–make it a real challenge!
So following the directions (this time) I tossed in 3 breasts, 2/3 C broth and set it for the 15 minutes. In 20 min (remember–it’s got to come up to pressure) it was done. I vented and viola! Perfect tender chicken!
That’s an awesome time saver–being able to walk in the door after work, a busy day in the garden, running errands, soccer games. . . well, whatever challenges you have in your life and within 20 minutes have chicken go from completely frozen to juicy and tender!
I can’t wait to try it with some winter soups and stews, the kind I usually leave cooking all day in a slow cooker. . .