Pictured recipe: Pressure-Cooker Buddha Bowl
After a long day of work, the last thing you want to deal with is cooking a giant pot roast in the oven for hours. Or what if you forgot to soak those beans for dinner? Dishes like beef roast and home-cooked beans are usually weekend-only endeavors, requiring hours of free time to prepare. Or so you thought. You can save valuable time and streamline dinner prep with the help of a pressure cooker, turning weekend meals into weeknight solutions.
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Pressure cookers have come a long way since their heyday in the 1940s and '50s. Modern stovetop pressure cookers are equipped with multiple safety features—the design of the lid-locking system makes it impossible for the lid to be removed when the pot is under pressure. New-generation pressure cookers, equipped with spring-valve pressure regulators, are quiet, streamlined and safe.
A real game-changer in recent years is the electric pressure cooker and multicooker. Popular devices like the Instant Pot have introduced pressure-cooking to the mainstream with easy, safe operation and hands-off cooking. Simply snap on the lid and press a few buttons. The cooker does the rest. Note that electric cookers operate at a slightly lower level of pressure, so cook times are a little longer than for their stovetop counterparts.
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Pictured recipe: Pressure-Cooker Chicken & Rice (Arroz con Pollo)
A pressure cooker works by trapping steam inside the sealed pot. This causes the atmospheric pressure to rise, which increases the boiling temperature of water. So, instead of cooking food at 212°F (if you are at sea level), you cook it at 250°F, resulting in dramatically faster cooking times without harsh boiling.
This also translates into major energy savings. Depending on the type of food and the type of cooker, a pressure cooker can help you green up your kitchen with an energy savings of up to 50 to 80 percent, according to manufacturers.
Pictured recipe: Gluten-Free Pressure-Cooker Mac & Cheese
Modern pressure-cooking is safer than ever, energy-efficient and will save you time and effort with hands-free cooking. But the cookers do require a bit of a learning curve for best use. Below are the basic steps for how to use your pressure cooker (electric or stovetop).
If you live at an altitude of 2,000 feet or higher, a pressure cooker may be your best friend in the kitchen. The lower atmospheric pressure at high altitudes allows water to boil at lower temperatures than at sea level. By increasing the pressure, a pressure cooker raises the temperature at which water boils, thus helping to compensate for the longer cooking times caused by high altitude. Adjust pressure-cooking times according to the following formula: for every 1,000 feet above 2,000 feet elevation, increase the cooking time by 5 percent.
Pictured recipe: Turkish Chickpea & Lamb Soup
There's a good reason canned beans are so popular: they don't take hours to cook. Dried beans are superior in texture, flavor, price and nutrition, but they can be a real pain to prepare since they take lots of forethought. Dried beans are typically soaked overnight before cooking for at least an hour (sometimes two or three hours), making them less than ideal for a last-minute meal. In comes the pressure cooker. It can turn beans from dried to creamy in 45 minutes or less, and the whole process is hands-off. Dried black beans take about 40 minutes to pressure-cook from start to finish, and free you up to assemble tacos or make Spanish rice. Rather than settle for canned, cook up a pot of beans and store any leftovers in their cooking liquid for meals throughout the week. Cooked beans will keep for about 3 days in the fridge.
Pictured recipe: Pressure-Cooker Beef & Noodles
How many times have you arrived home ready to make dinner when you realize you forgot to defrost a key ingredient? Frozen food is a great way to have fresh, healthy food on hand, but cooking frozen chicken thighs, for example, takes some thinking ahead. If you're pressure-cooking those chicken thighs, then you've got nothing to worry about. You can safely pressure-cook a number of frozen ingredients and it will only add a few minutes to your cook time. The general rule with frozen meat is to add 50 percent more cook time (if an ingredient normally takes 10 minutes to cook, cook it for 15 minutes) and allow more time for the cooker to build pressure. Frozen pieces of chicken, ground beef, cubed beef or thin pork are good for this method, and work well in stews and soups. Avoid using frozen giant roasts or other big hunks of meat—it's best to defrost these items before cooking.
Pictured recipe: Rosemary-Orange Pot Roast
Speaking of big hunks of meat, Sunday pot roast isn't just for Sunday anymore. Big pieces of beef or pork require long braises or stews using conventional methods, meaning hours of cook time. This is fine as a weekend project, but what if you want to serve pork shoulder on a Tuesday night and you don't want to load up your slow cooker before work? The pressure cooker simulates long braises and turns tough meat perfectly tender after about an hour of high pressure. This means you can have your showstopping main dish on the table, start to finish, in less than two hours. While the meat cooks, prepare your side dishes, set the table and open a bottle of wine. No sweat.
Pictured recipe: Pressure-Cooker Mac & Cheese
And speaking of multitasking, a pressure cooker gives you freedom to utilize the rest of your kitchen. This may sound like a riddle, but the hands-off nature of pressure-cooking means that you don't have to babysit the dish. Once you've clamped on the lid and started the timer, you're free to ignore the cooker until the cook time is up. This leaves you free to toss a salad and sear a steak on the stovetop, or steam a cheesecake while you eat dinner. Even though you can make whole meals in the pressure cooker (stew, for example), you don't have to. The cooker will cook your chosen dish perfectly without your help, letting you easily churn out a whole spread on a weeknight.
Pictured recipe: 4-Way Beef Roast
Why cook one dish in your pressure cooker when you can cook two? Using a steamer rack, basket or trivet, you can create layers within the pot and cook two dishes at once. Steam fish up top while a sauce or grain cooks below. Cook a vegetable stew or curry in the bottom of the pot and steam rice in a bowl or ramekin above. Steam "hard-boiled" eggs while oats, rice or grits cook below. The possibilities are endless, as long as your cook times match up. For example, if both items cook for 5 minutes at high pressure, and one is steamed on a rack or cooked pot-in-pot (meaning the dish cooks in a ramekin, bowl or other dish inside the cooker pot), then you can make both dishes at once. Pressure-cooking two dishes at once is kitchen multitasking at its finest.