Something Old That’s New Again: The Pressure Cooker

The pressure cooker has had a somewhat infamous past. In 1939, the first sauce-pan style pressure cooker was introduced to American home cooks by National Presto Industries. Given the brand name “Presto”, it rapidly caught on in post-WWII America; it allowed housewives to cook food in one-third the time while retaining the vitamin and mineral content, as well as preserving flavor.

That was the good news. The bad news was these cookers were not necessarily safe to use. There were instances of the pot exploding because the built-up steam couldn’t escape properly. Some people were burned because the lid opened even though the steam pressure was dangerously high. For these reasons, the pressure cooker fell out of favor with home cooks, and was reduced to being a relic of a bygone era.

Now the pressure cooker has been rediscovered; not the original ones used by your mother and grandmother, but a second-generation version that has built-in safety features to prevent the accidents of the past. There are some good reasons why this cooking technique is making a resurgence:

  • Saves money — By cooking your food in 30 percent less time, you use less energy. Using a pressure cooker also keeps your kitchen cooler, which means you can lower the air conditioning in the summer.
  • Retains nutrients — Pressure cookers require very little liquid to cook, so there’s less chance of nutrients in the food being lost as the liquid evaporates during the cooking process.
  • Kills bacteria — This technique requires very high temperatures, which means that pressure cookers are probably the best way to ensure that harmful bacteria in food is completely killed.
  • Provides flexibility — You can cook a variety of items in a pressure cooker, ranging from roasts to rice pudding.
  • Cleans easily — The pot, lid, gasket, and pressure weight are all removable and can be washed with water and a mild dish-washing liquid.

If you’re thinking about buying a pressure cooker, here are some points to consider:

  • High PSI — The higher the PSI (pounds per square inch), the higher the internal temperature the pot will reach, and the faster the food will cook. Your pressure cooker should be rated at least 15 PSI.
  • Safety features — Do not buy a pressure cooker unless it has a pressure release valve for the proper ventilation of built-up steam, and a safety lock on the handle to prevent the lid from accidentally coming off.
  • Dual pressure speeds — Having two pressure speeds allows you to cook under a high pressure for most items, but also gives you the opportunity to lower the pressure for foods that are too delicate to withstand such rapid pressure.
  • Strong handles — Be sure that the handles are solid enough and secure enough to prevent them from falling off when the pot is full.

Owning a pressure cooker can be a real time saver, especially when you’re trying to prepare meals at the end of a long day. Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t try to use an old pressure cooker that you found in someone’s attic, because it may not be safe, and you could be putting yourself and your family at risk. In fact, that may be the very reason why it is in the attic and not the kitchen in the first place.