Adventures with my new pressure cooker

Adventures with my PC

What was your New Year’s resolution? My resolution was to cook for the first time with a “PC” – yes, a pressure cooker. My mother was not a fan of pressure cookers as she had witnessed the redecorating of several kitchens – but not with the usual calico or ginghams, but rather with red beets or split pea soup. (Her aunt was not even Irish!) Another great story was when Clara blew the pot roast right through the ceiling and into the second-story bathroom. My wife also informed me that her two uncles, Bert and Elner, refurbished the farmhouse kitchen north of Ray when a chicken flew out of the pressure cooker and the lid smashed into the ceiling. It made a lasting impression and ended their pressure-cooking days.

My first true introduction to the pressure cooker came from Maxine Strand. She was a woman who admired efficiency, and with her busy schedule of retouching negatives in the studio, the pressure cooker came to aid in preparing delicious and fast meals for her and her family.

Several times Maxine instructed me how to carefully use the pressure cooker. She, however, understood that my comfort zone with the pressure cooker was not equal to hers. To further entice me, she once said, “I look at the pressure cooker as an army tank in my kitchen which can cook just about anything. I do believe if I threw an old leather shoe in it with a bit of seasoning, you could eat it!”

Well, I finally took the leap, and Jan. 11 made our first meal using the pressure cooker. I had studied the owner’s manual, and when Jan and Lydia arrived home that evening they were greeted to a meal of thickly sliced ham, sliced carrots, cauliflower, a purple onion (after all, we eat with our eyes first!) with sliced potatoes – all nicely done. I did manage to complete the meal without blowing the pressure cooker through the ceiling. This meal was prepared with 3/4 cup of water (to which I had added a bay leaf) and once the high pressure was attained, the timer was set for 3 1/2 minutes. Then came the cooling and once the pressure was down, I removed the lid and there appeared our perfectly cooked meal. After adding salt, pepper and a small dash of butter, supper was served.

Now, the approval came when I asked my faithful kitchen assistant, Miss Lydia, what she thought of the meal. She responded by saying “quite good and I noticed that the ham is much juicer than when it is fried or even baked.” My maiden voyage with the pressure cooker has set me on a new course of cooking. In the coming months, be prepared to hear about the type of pressure cooker I purchased; how to use a pressure cooker to braise and brown meat before pressure cooking; other uses for the kettle of the pressure cooker; and of course, several tried recipes.

These are rules that I have established now that I have ventured into a new direction of fast, easy and delicious cooking. Thanks, Maxine!

15 Principle Rules of Pressure Cookery

1. Read the owner’s manual and perform the tests they suggest.

2. Check to see that the vent or valve systems are clean and in good working order before using.

3. Use the recommended amount of liquid by the manufacturer or as needed by the cooking time tables.

4. Use aluminum foil to form packets. This is an excellent way to avoid overcooking and maximize flavor. For example, with stew, any of the vegetables that you would like to remain firm, simply foil them.

5. Do not exceed the 2/3-full level for most recipes. If you are using foods that expand, foam or froth, then fill only half-full as the maximum level. The newer models have these levels marked inside.

6. Always check to make sure the gasket is in good condition and fits easily into the lid. Once the gasket is in place, lock the lid using the arrows or other visual markings provided by the manufacturer. Then rotate the lid until the lid and handles line up.

7. Use high heat to establish the desired pressure. Once this has been reached, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible level to stabilize and maintain pressure.

8. Remember cooking time is calculated from the moment high pressure is reached. Many charts will state “4 minutes high pressure.” This means that as soon as the cooker reaches high pressure, you should set the timer and cook under high pressure for four minutes.

9. Always use a timer, and, as with any other kitchen appliance that cooks rapidly and uses very high temperatures, do not leave the pressure cooker unattended. This is not the time to start working on the family scrapbook. You need to keep your eyes and ears in connection with the pressure cooker.

10. Before you think of using a vintage pressure cooker, make sure you know the model number or name, and that it is still being manufactured and parts are available.

11. Use the natural release method for releasing pressure. This is done by simply removing the pressure cooker from the heat source and letting the pressure drop naturally. Once the pressure has dropped to normal, unlock the lid by tilting it away from you to allow steam to escape. You may also want the contents to rest and give your food some “breathing time” before you serve the meal.

12. On many models, a quick release valve is available to very rapidly release pressure. Become familiar with this and know that it is not going to release blasts of steam like an old steam engine. On newer models, pressure is released with a sight sound and all steam is directed downwards as to not burn you.

13. Use the cold water release method. This is done when the pressure cooker has been removed from the heat source and placed in the kitchen sink. Cold water is gently run over the lid. There is no need to recreate Niagara Falls. Do not allow water to run directly over the vent or valve system. Always be sure the pressure has dropped back to normal before opening the locking lid on the pressure cooker.

14. Thoroughly clean the pressure cooker after each use and dry well. From time to time, the valve and vent systems will need to be cleaned according to the owner’s manual.

15. Store the pressure cooker with the lid upside down on the kettle. The gasket should be thoroughly dry and draped loosely on the lid. You do not want to store the pressure cooker with the lid locked on as you will be greeted by the aroma of your last meal. Also storing the gasket with a locked lid shortens the life of your gasket.