This Is Not Your Grandmother's Pressure Cooker

I'm not ashamed to admit it — I used to be scared of pressure cookers. My only exposure to them had been as a child at my grandmother's house, her demon cooker always perched upon her stove, hissing, spitting and perpetually rattling. Wary as I was, I recently found myself the recipient of a shiny, new, pressure cooker and that is when my attitude began to change.

I initially ignored my new gadget for months, but then one day, in the midst of a chicken soup crisis, I put my cooker to the test and it performed like a champ. From that day on I was hooked, and have since used it on numerous occasions, consistently thrilled with the results.

Today, I realize that my fear of the pressure cookers of yester-year were not unfounded. Blasts of escaping steam and rattling tops were standard and the lid blowing off mid cycle, splattering dinner onto every surface in the kitchen, was not uncommon.Today's pressure cookers are much different, however, and much safer and easier to use.

First the basics, or, how does a pressure cooker work?

To put it simply, a rubber gasket inside the lid forms an airtight seal and as the contents of the pot boils, the pressure inside builds. Because of this increased pressure, water, which normally boils at 212 degrees, will now boil at 250 degrees instead. (For more details, take a look at this video by Food Network science guru Alton Brown.)

What does this mean to you and me?

  • Foods that typically take hours to cook now cook in a fraction of the time.
  • Less cooking time means lower energy costs as less gas or electricity is utilized.
  • Fewer nutrients are lost in the cooking process when foods are cooked for shorter periods.
  • Dinner is ready a lot sooner.

Oh, and that whole lid blowing off thing? No longer an issue. Today's models come with numerous safety features, including:

  • Gauges that automatically release steam if the pressure becomes too great.
  • Pots that must be properly sealed before any pressure will even begin to build.
  • Pots that cannot be opened until all of the pressure has been released.

These safeguards make pressure cooking an almost foolproof task, and once you see how efficient they are, you'll wonder how you’ve managed without one.

The real proof comes when you sit down to eat your culinary creations, however. Rich chicken soup in under an hour, beef stew in 30 minutes, short ribs, soups, apple sauce– the possibilites are endless. Pressure cooker appeal is rapidly growing, too. Websites touting the joys and benefits of pressure cookers are popping up all over with recipes and instructions a few key strokes away. They are even getting respectable mention everywhere from The Food Network to The New York Times.

Pressure Cooker Chicken Stock

(I like to keep my chicken stock clean and simple. You can enhance yours with any additional vegetables, herbs or flavorings that you prefer. You can also roast the bones first, for a darker, richer stock)

2-3# chicken bones (backs, necks, carcasses)

1 medium yellow onion, roughly diced

2 carrots, roughly chopped

1 celery stalk, roughly chopped

2 sprigs fresh dill

pinch of salt

whole black peppercorns

1. Place all of the ingredients in your pressure cooker.

2. Add enough water to cover the bones by about an inch (do not go over the fill line inside your pot.)

3. Seal the lid onto your pot and bring to full pressure according to the instructions that came with your cooker.

4. Once your pot reaches full pressure, maintain for 15 minutes and then remove the pot from the heat and place on a cool burner to allow the pressure to come down (this should take another 15-20 minutes.)

5. Once all of the pressure has been released you may open the lid.

6. Strain your stock through a sieve.

7. For a richer flavored stock, place your strained stock into a heavy bottomed pot and back onto the stove. Simmer, uncovered, until it reduces slightly and the flavors intensify.

Used the finished stock for soups, sauces and anything else you like.