Sunday, January 2, 2011

Under Pressure

The title of this post would ordinarily refer to the awesome song collaboration of Queen and David Bowie (the bass line was later stolen by Vanilla Ice), but tonight I'm talking about pressure cooking. 

I know that a lot of people are intimidated by the pressure cooker and I can understand being cautious around a pot that cooks food at very high pressure.  It can be dangerous if you're using an old pressure cooker and you don't know what you're doing, but most modern pressure cookers have safeguards in place to ensure that mishaps don't occur in your kitchen.  Bayonet locks, tight rubber gaskets, and other safety features make pressure cooking relatively simple and easy with no fear of explosions or injuries.  My pressure cooker won't even open if there is any pressure in the pot.

I like using the pressure cooker because it's a huge time saver in the kitchen.  It normally takes between 45 and 60 minutes to make a pot of barley on the stovetop.  And dried beans (except for lentils) take even longer.  With a pressure cooker, however, I can cook a pot of dried beans and/or whole grains in less than fifteen minutes.  Even big beans, like garbanzos, will be cooked and tender in about twelve minutes at high pressure.  See what I mean about it being a time saver?

Tonight I utilized some of that leftover ham from yesterday and made a big ol' pot of split pea soup.  I used dried split peas and it only took ten minutes on the stove.  Ten minutes!  It only took ten minutes of cooking and our dinner was served.

I like my pressure cooker, but I don't use it for much more than making beans, whole grains, and soups.  What do you like to prepare in a pressure cooker?

* * *

Split Pea Soup with Ham
1 brown onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled & diced
1 lb dried split peas
2 cups chopped or diced ham
*1/4 cup canola oil
7 cups of water
**Seasonings to taste:  salt, black pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, crushed red pepper flakes

In pressure cooker, cook onion, celery, and carrots until barely tender.  Rinse and sort split peas according to package directions.  Add split peas, ham, canola oil, and water to the pressure cooker.  Fasten lid, set pressure cooker to the high pressure setting, and turn up the heat on the burner to high.  ***When steam first begins to escape, turn heat to low.  Begin timing now; if your pressure cooker doesn't lose steam and it will take about ten minutes.  Allow the pressure cooker to naturally lose pressure if you can wait another ten minutes or so.  Season the soup, stir, taste, serve.

*You do need the oil - don't skip the oil. 
**Salt tends to toughen dried beans so hold off on seasoning the soup until the dried split peas are cooked. 
***If you have an electric stovetop (like I do), you have to realize that your burners retain heat long after you turn them down.  I avoid overcooking problems by beginning on one burner set on High and moving the pot to a burner set on Low once pressure is attained in the cooker.


  1. Pressure cookers are the Greatest... I use mine when I cook Sourcraut and pork... You cook the Pork in the pressure cooker, add quartered potatoes, sourcraut the a 1/2 cup of brown sugar... Takes about an hour then you can eat... Tastes best the next day... Yummm... I tried Split pea soup when my kids were young... They won't touch it even from a can today... Guess I didn't make it so good... lol

  2. Sauerkraut... OOP's...

  3. I've always been scared of the pressure cooker. I vaguely remember my grandma having one when I was a kid, and that I wasn't allowed to even be in the kitchen when it was on the stove :0

    Split pea soup in 10 minutes though might get me face my fears. That sounds heavenly on a day like today.

  4. Anonymous - If I have enough ham leftover and I can handle the smell, I think I'll make the sauerkraut & potatoes. And what in the world happened with your split pea soup?! :)

    Jenny - I know a lot of people who won't use the pressure cooker because they've heard of or witnessed mishaps. It can be dangerous so they are right to be cautious if they don't know what they're doing, but it's great if you can follow the directions that come with your pot. I didn't know anyone who used one growing up so I didn't have much of an opinion about it one way or the other. It was just another thing to learn about using and I finally forced myself to learn how to use it around five years ago.

  5. I was looking at that one you have linked from Amazon up there in the post and it seems like there have been a lot of safety innovations since my grandmothers model of pressure cooker. I seems like you would have to really have to be doing something very wrong to get into a dangerous situation. Is that the one you have? Do you find 6qt to be sufficient? If I am reading the info correctly you can only fill it 1/2 - 2/3 full.

  6. Yes, modern pressure cookers are much safer than the ones used by previous generations. Like I said in the post, I can't even open mine if the contents are still under pressure. I understand that some older models made a lot of noise too and I've only noticed noise if I have it at pressure and with too much heat on my burners. Darn electric cooktop does have some disadvantages.

    I do have the Fagor Duo pressure cooker and, for basically just being a pot with a lid, it is a heavy son of a gun! I have no idea how thick the bottom is, but it's substantial. I'm nearly 100% certain that it's the 6 qt size and I didn't go with the bigger size (I think the next size up was 8 qt) because it was sooo heavy that I was sure I'd drop it if it had food in it. Since I have the electric cook top, I move it to the counter while waiting for it to lose pressure and I'm so thankful that it isn't any heavier than it is. Of course, I could just be a wimp. :)

    You are correct that you do not fill a pressure cooker to capacity and, if you're cooking a food that expands (like dried beans or whole grains), you only fill it about 1/2 way or so - including any cooking liquid. My 6 qt pot easily handles a pound of beans and I haven't yet regretted having the "smaller" size.

  7. Oh, and if you're interested in doing any home canning, a pressure cooker is very helpful.