Are you afraid of pressure cookers? For some, it’s because grandma’s used to steam, whistle and jump around on top of the stove, or because of her dire warnings that it would explode if it got bumped. I was nervous when asked to test the Power Pressure Cooker XL, an electric pressure cooker sold on infomercials, on QVC and in select home-goods stores across the country.
How does a pressure cooker work? The theory is simple: Cook food, using water or other liquid (like broth), in a sealed pot, in as little as half the time of conventional cooking. For instance, cooking a pot roast in the oven can take about an hour; cooking the same pot roast in a pressure cooker will take only 20 to 30 minutes. Pressure cooking always needs liquid and thick sauces won’t work; you can’t build up enough pressure. Essentially, pressure cooking steams the food.
On opening the package, the Power Pressure Cooker XL isn’t much bigger than a bread maker; all the buttons are on the front, letting you choose what you’re making (meat, chicken, fish, soup, vegetables) for automated timing, along with a way to set time for your own recipes or add time to the automatic settings, in case you’re making more or less than the original recipe sets out. I decided to start with the easiest recipe, pot roast, which is also the recipe my grandmother made with her pressure cooker.
I expected the process to be messy and noisy; I was wrong. I followed the directions in the included cookbook. I plugged in the cooker, put the insert in place and turned the cooker on, using the “meat” setting. According to the directions, I seared the roast in the insert; it’s great being able to use only one pot to make this meal. As soon as the searing was complete, I added the other ingredients – potatoes, carrots, onion, all cut to as uniform size as I could get them. I added the liquid and the spices. I placed the lid and locked it, made sure the timer was set appropriately, closed the pressure valve and waited.
Before I knew it, the beeper went off; my roast was done. Wait a minute – where was the noise? Where was the noise? Did it really work? I followed the instructions to release the pressure, then opened the pot. I was met by some of the most delicious smells ever. Almost before I got the top off, I could tell this was going to be great.
The roast was so tender, I needed a slotted spoon to get it out of the cooker. I turned the cooker back on and brought the broth to boiling so I could make some gravy; the combined flavors were … mmmmmmm. Best yet, the kitchen wasn’t hot, it was clean and cooking only took 20 minutes.
Here are some tips I learned to make using the pressure cooker easier:
- Always use at least one cup of liquid: broth, water, wine work well
- At the same time, never fill the cooker more than half full of liquid
- The cooker will adjust its temperature as cooking progresses, from the highest heat to built pressure, lowering it as needed throughout the process to keep the pressure up
- It’s ok to add time, if needed, to the stated time or the automatic time setting
- For even cooking, cut veggies into as uniform sizes as possible
- To make your own recipes for the cooker, use your normal ingredients, then cut the cooking time by 25 to 50-percent
I admit – I was wrong. The new electric pressure cookers are really worth it. Many thanks to Eric Theiss and Meredith Laurence for taking the time to convince me.