For a long time, I have been against pressure canning and pressure cooking. Pressure canning, at least, is discouraged in Nourishing Traditions as nutrient destroyer (see Legumes, page 495). And traditional food lovers seem to follow an unwritten rule that anything cooked or canned under pressure must be suspect.
I am not against pressure canning or cooking any more. Today I want to share why I’ve changed my tune, plus resources so you can get started, too!
Pressure Canning v. Pressure Cooking
You might be wondering if there’s a difference between pressure canning and pressure cooking. Yes, there is. Basically the difference is explained in each name. Pressure canning is for canning food. Pressure cooking is for cooking meals and dishes. Both are accomplished via a pot that’s sealed up tighter than your normal cooking pot — which therefore creates a higher-pressure and higher-heat environment.
In this post, I’m going to share my experience to date with both pressure canning and pressure cooking. And then this post will focus on how you too can get started with pressure cooking. If you don’t want to yet, you will by the time I’m done, I promise. 😉
I haven’t yet used the beautiful, yellow, almost 40-year-old Presto pressure canner my mom passed on to me — which was a gift from her sister, my aunt, in 1976. It’s pictured right there on top of my freezer, next to the water bath canner.
It is ready to go, though. A local friend took the lid to the extension office to get it inspected and the gauge tested, and she replaced the gauge and gasket for me. She did all that so I would finally give it a try. I am planning to do that soon.
In December 2012, I read an article from Kristen at Food Renegade: Is Pressure Cooking Healthy? Essentially, she argues that pressure cooking increases nutrient preservation (as well as increases cooking efficiency). Her article — which covers much more ground than my one sentence summary — got me mulling over the issues and saying to myself, “I’m going to try that someday…”
Fast forward more than a year and what really spurred me into looking at this again (yes, I’m slow) was our grass-fed beef experience. This year, we got a tough one. (Or perhaps it seems tough because the previous beef we raised ourselves was out of this world tender and flavorful.) In any case, this year’s freezer full of beef is just tough. No matter what I tried — long and low, searing, braising, you name it — it came out tough. Except I hadn’t tried pressure cooking. So it was time.
My huge, almost 40 year old pressure canner wasn’t going to work for this purpose. First of all, it is way too big. Second of all, it’s aluminum. And third of all, it’s for pressure canning not pressure cooking. So I began a hunt for a pressure cooker.
I settled on this 7+ quart Duromatic Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker (pictured top). On the day it arrived, I tried a roast. It came out so much more tender than before! It was actually very good. I have since pressure cooked whole chickens, beans, broth, soup, and more roasts (of course). They cook up fast and tender.
UPDATE: My favorite pressure cooker is now this InstantPot!
Seriously — a completely frozen 6-pound pastured chicken is done in an hour and a half.
Why Pressure Cooking?
Maybe you’re on the fence about pressure cooking. So let me whet your appetite by talking it up a bit!
It’s fast. Fast as in what might usually take 2 hours will be done in 20 minutes. Already soaked beans done in 15 minutes (or so, depending on the bean type). A thawed chicken in about an hour or a frozen chicken in an hour and a half. A roast in 65 minutes rather than 3 to 4 hours. Nutritious broth/stock in 2 hours rather than 12 to 24. Even vegetables are faster — but I don’t see the point in pressure cooking those because they’re pretty fast anyway and they can quickly turn to mush if pressure cooked too long.
It’s nutritious. With reduced cooking times, heat sensitive nutrients (like ascorbic acid and beta-carotene) are better preserved. And anti-nutrients such as phytic acid are better reduced through pressure cooking than boiling. (Credit to Food Renegade for this info.)
It tenderizes meat. This is especially helpful for wild or pastured meat that could use softening up. I just want to say — not all pastured meat needs this. But this year, ours sure does!
Which Pressure Cooker to Choose
Okay, you’re convinced, right? I thought so. So it’s time to shop around. Thankfully, the new pressure cookers are not as potentially dangerous as the old ones. Their safety features prevent unsafe build-up of pressure, and therefore you don’t need to fear explosions. Plus, the newer cookers are more quiet — none of that top rocking back and forth. Remember those? I sure do.
Here are a few general guidelines for when you’re shopping:
Constructed of stainless steel. You’re cooking your food in this without the protective barrier of a glass canning jar, so you want a relatively unreactive metal. (Aluminum pressure canners are not a good choice for pressure cooking. However, you may be able to pressure can in a pressure cooker.) Look for high quality stainless steel. 18/10 grade with an aluminum core seems to be a high quality standard.
At least 6 or 7 quart volume. You can only fill a pressure cooker up to 2/3 (and sometimes only up to 1/2), so you’ve got to get one large enough to do a whole roast or chicken or large pot of beans. A tiny pressure cooker isn’t going to do much good. Feel free to get smaller ones later — but your main one should be at least 6 or 7 quart. Mine is 7.4 quarts.
A good valve design and lid you like. Read the reviews for the models that interest you and make sure you’re happy with how they work. When I shopped the Kuhn Rikon models, I noticed they had a few different types of lids. Most of them allow you to release pressure through pressing and holding down the stem at the top of the lid. On the other hand, the “Turn Top” style (which I chose) has a valve you twist, then release, to reduce pressure. I also liked that the Turn Top has two bright red lines indicating pressure (8 or 15 pounds) that I can easily see from a distance — like the next room.
Steaming trivet. This is a little insert that goes in the bottom of the pot for when you need to keep foods off the bottom of the pot (so liquids can circulate and to prevent burning). If your pot doesn’t come with one, you’ll want to get one separately.
UPDATE: My favorite pressure cooker is now this InstantPot!
Pressure Cooking Basics
I can’t possibly outdo a good book on pressure cooking in a little blog post, so here I will cover just the basic ideas. You’ll want to consult the manual that comes with your cooker, plus purchase a good book.
I chose the book Pressure Perfect by Lorna Sass — it covers everything I need. I also have Cooking Under Pressure by the same author. If you can only get one, get Pressure Perfect. I chose the Kindle version for both and I refer to them on my iPad while I’m cooking. Very handy!
Here are some of the basics:
Release methods. With pressure cooking, you’ll find quick, slow, and natural release methods. For all three, you first remove the pot from heat. Then you release pressure through one of the methods.
The quick release is done by putting the pot (still under pressure seal) under cold running water. Be careful that the water doesn’t go onto any of the valves — which could create a blockage and therefore a strong vacuum in the pot. Slow release entails using the built-in pressure release value to release the pressure. And natural release is simply allowing the pot to reduce its pressure naturally as it cools down (this takes about 20 minutes).
Certain foods do best with particular release methods; for instance, most of the time, meats need a natural release and if you skip this, your meat may seize up and get tough. A tried and true recipe will specify which method you should use. If nothing is specified, use the natural release method.
Minimum liquid amount. Pressure cooking requires less liquid overall (because it doesn’t escape the pot into the air), but you’ll still need a minimum. Every pressure cooker is different and your manual will tell you what your pot’s minimum amount is. You should always use this amount, plus additional needed for the dish (such as for cooking beans, or making soup or broth).
Additionally, in both Pressure Perfect and Cooking Under Pressure, Lorna Sass tells you how to figure out how much liquid your pot loses over time. This is good information to know when you’re venturing into making up your own recipes. You’ll know after hour 2 that your pot will have lost X amount of liquid.
Temperature adjustment and type of stove. When your pot gets up to pressure, you want to lower the heat to where it will maintain that temperature — not over it and not under it. Caution — electric stoves are hard! The burners retain heat even after you adjust temperature and this makes it hard to be responsive to the pressure level in the pot.
Here’s what happens with me. It can be frustrating, at first. My pot gets up to high pressure, so I turn down the temperature. But it can literally take 5 minutes or more for the pressure in the pot to adjust — and that’s simply because my electric burner is still too hot even though it’s been turned down.
So I work with these things: 1) reducing the heat before the pot gets to high pressure, 2) taking the pot off that burner until the burner cools off (putting the pot on another burner set to low to avoid losing too much pressure), or 3) simply being patient and present and fiddling with the temperature control until I get it right. It isn’t the same each time, because other factors at play are the amount and type of food and liquid in the pot.
But… once you get the temperature/pressure right, you can leave the pot to do its thing. (I would never recommend leaving entirely, though — do stay nearby.)
Sizing of foods. If you’re going to make stews and dishes with a mixture of vegetables, you have to play with their sizing to get their textures right. They cook at different rates. So one type could be mush while another type is perfectly done. The way to work this is to cut larger pieces of the foods that cook more quickly, and/or smaller pieces of the foods that take longer to cook. Tried and true pressure cooker recipes have this all figured out already — just follow the sizing instructions exactly.
Follow tried and true recipes or formulas. When you’re getting started, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Use tested recipes or formulas. For instance, if I’m cooking a roast or beans, I go to the chart in Pressure Perfect where she’s got it all laid out. (There are even adjustments for if the beans are soaked, if the meat is frozen, and how much time to add per additional pound, etc.) Do it the prescribed way first, make notes, then adjust if you need it. I have found that I prefer meats and beans cooked longer than the formulas. But at least the formulas give me a starting point.
Ready, Set, Go!
I am so excited to hear what you do with pressure cooking. If you’re already a pro, share your tips in the comments. If you’re a beginner, let me know how it goes.
These two books on pressure cooking are great:
Please check out these pressure cooking resource from fellow bloggers:
- Is Pressure Cooking Healthy? at Food Renegade
- Pressure Cooker Bone Broth at Food Renegade
- Natto using a Pressure Cooker at Just So
- Hip Pressure Cooking — looks like a fun site 🙂
You might also want to check out these pressure canning resources:
- Raw Pack Green Beans right here at Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS
- Pressure Canned Spaghetti Sauce at Common Sense Homesteading
- All kinds of pressure canning recipes at The Homesteading Hippy
- Pressure Canned Ground Beef at Pantry Paratus
What do you think? Pressure cooking sound intriguing? Got any questions? Please share in the comments!
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