The last time I was at my grandpa’s house, I was digging around in his kitchen, and found a pressure cooker. I had seen it when I was a kid, so I started asking a bunch of questions. It seemed like an archaic yet fascinating piece of gear.
I asked a few of my cooking friends if they had any pressure cooker experience.
“Are you kidding? Those things are dangerous! They can blow up your whole house!”
Wow. You had me at dangerous.
So, I had a quest. Find out if I can still buy a pressure cooker, and if so, obtain one as quickly as possible.
Yes, I know. Not the most frugal game plan, but times were different then. In retrospect, the purchase did end up being a frugal buy. The purpose of this site is not only to save money (hence frugality) but to save time and effort (hence painless). So, forgive my impulse buy, but do know that it turned out to be a smart move.
I also believe that cooking is not only frugal, but it is a sport. It is a passion. It is the future. It is history. Learning to cook is one of the few skills that can save your life, get chicks, get guys, save a buck, and lay the groundwork for a lifetime of memories.
What is it?
The idea of a pressure cooker is that instead of cooking food slowly at low temperature as does its cousin the crock pot, it cooks food quickly using high pressure.
It’s just a heavy cooking pot, with a lid that fastens to it securely, and lets the pressure build. Yeah, scary, but really not. Stick with me.
Before I go any further, let me quickly discuss safety. In looking at my grandpa’s pressure cooker, the only heat escape is via the little hole at the top. The one that is covered by the little valve. If something were to plug that hole tight enough, you could conceivably have beef stew rain down on the entire neighborhood.
With the pressure cooker I found, there were three other places for the built up pressure to escape, should there be a problem. There are two extra valves on the lid, and one on the side. So, in reality, the perfect storm would really need to be more than perfect to blow the place up. I deem them safe.
What Will I Gain?
The pressure cooker adds yet another convenience to your kitchen. Things that normally take a very long time (hours) to cook on a normal stove can be done in about half an hour. This half hour includes all prep and cooking time.
Don’t be taken in by the hype on the box. The box will make claims that your food will cook in ten minutes. It will, but there’s more to it than that. Keep that in mind, and you won’t be disappointed.
The fact that you can cook dishes faster means that you can feel free to cook things during that week that you would normally reserve for a Sunday dinner. Some of the things I consistently cook on weeknights are:
- Beef Stew
- Chicken Soup – from scratch
- Pot Roast
- Shredded Beef
- Pulled Pork
- Chile Verde
The list goes on and on, but the idea is that hearty one-pot meat dishes are tossed around by the pressure cooker.
I’m Interested, What Next?
Okay, here’s what I did next. Since I have a prime account on amazon, I decided to start shopping there. I started looking around, and found that I had no idea what I was looking at, so it was back to the drawing board. I headed to the public library, and grabbed a few books on pressure cooking. Among my haul was a book by Lorna Sass called Pressure Perfect: Two Hour Taste in Twenty Minutes Using Your Pressure Cooker.
This book proved invaluable in my pressure quest. I checked it out so many times that I was banned from checking it out any further. I bought a copy, and still use it to this day.
To save you a little time, these are the things that I found most important in selecting a pressure cooker:
- Material – There are pressure cookers made of both aluminum and stainless steel. I picked stainless for durability. I was also afraid that aluminum might scratch off and get into my food.
- Pressure – Man of the modern pressure cookers have several pressure settings. I decided to get a cooker with only one setting, for simplicity’s sake. I have not regretted this, hundreds of dishes later.
- Size – You can get sizes from 4 quart to 30 quart. Looking through the cookbooks, I found that for the most part, all recipes are written for a 6 quart cooker. I have not regretted this either.
So, there really isn’t much to it. The one pictured to the right is the one I chose, and have had no complaints. I love my pressure cooker.
I got my Cooker. What Now?
This is where it gets exciting. Your best bet is to pick up a few books on the subject. Like I said, the Lorna Sass book is the one I liked best. I would probably steer clear of the internet for at least a few weeks in your quest for recipes. I have found that a great many of the recipes are obviously untested, and make no sense at all when you read them. Once you cook with a good book, you will begin to intuitively see when a recipe makes no sense.
There is a good deal of information housed in those books, and I don’t have the space to repeat it, but I have found a few tips that I learned with my cooker, and they might be useful in your kitchen:
- Herbs – Use whole herbs – even whole cloves of garlic. It’s like a pressure cooker in there. Actually, it IS a pressure cooker in there. The essential oils from herbs and spices tend to dissipate much more quickly. Using whole herbs, and even sauteing them in olive oil for a second makes the flavors more tenacious.
- Salt Modestly – on your first go around, add only a small amount of salt. Finish salting your dish after it has cooked. For some reason, food sometimes gets saltier as it cooks.
- Brown Meats – The pressure cooker will not brown your food. The color of foods (especially chicken) is sometimes weird and scary. There are lots of tricks on how to artificially brown meats. I just like to do it the old fashioned way: in a cast iron skillet, with olive oil and onions.
- Watch your pressure release – There are a few ways to release the pressure in your cooker. As long as your food is under pressure, it’s cooking. Good recipes know this, and have this time built in to the cooking time. Read your recipe closely, and mind that pressure release method.
- Seasoning – You will find that your food is probably a little under seasoned. The herbs and spices you added will be infused in your food, but the main character of your seasonings will need to be adjusted. After your food is cooked, feel free to add more seasoning. You can used crushed and grounds spices at this point.
So! I hope this gives you the gist of pressure cooking, and gives you the push to grab a cooker, grab a book, and let ‘er rip!
I should add a few frugal notes here.
The most frugal way to get books is to go to the library. This is what I did. I just found that I liked the book so much, that I had no choice but to buy it.
As for pressure cookers, you can probably find one at a garage sale. The only caveat here is that the seal on the cooker is very important. If the seal does not work, you will not build pressure, and you could get hurt by escaping steam. In this case, for your first cooker, I would definitely buy new.