By the standards of the rest of the world, I’m very late to the pressure cooking party. By North American standards, the party ain’t even started yet.
Prior to the Second World War, pressure cooking had a full head of steam in gaining popularity in North America. Production of the pots had to be halted for the war effort, but after the war, pent-up demand caused the market to explode. Unscrupulous American manufacturers responded with cheaply-made, poor quality ones. These ones, still being sold now in yard-sales and garage-sales, are the ones that could explode sometimes, and which gave the devices a bad rap that persists to this day.
Europe never had this quality problem, so the “scary” reputation does not exist there. Pressure cookers in Europe are so popular that on sunny Sunday afternoons walking down narrow stone streets in small, sleepy Italian villages you can hear the shusshing of pressure cookers from opened kitchen windows. In Switzerland, many people have two or three.
I used my microwave and slow cookers intensely, and had by January 2013 had added an Actifry to my kitchen arsenal. I’d used a pressure cooker sporadically, but I still felt as though I had unfinished business with it — truly learning what it could do. Family in England used their pressure cookers as a routine part of regular cooking, and challenged me why I’d bother making my soup stocks in open pots as it was inefficient to cook that way; as well, in a pressure cooker the stocks could be more concentrated meaning less freezer space required if the stock was being frozen for future use (as I often do.)
The first pressure cooker I had was an older aluminum Prestige brand model 6180 from 1988, picked up in 2000 from a boot sale in Great Leighs, Essex, but I wasn’t worried about the safety of it as it was in next-to-new condition, came with its manual, was British-made, and being the Prestige brand, came with a good reputation.
I just never warmed up to it, though, or related to it, I guess, because it did not get much use and just lived on a storage shelf in the basement.
In the fall of 2102, I started researching pressure cookers with a view to see what modern pressure cookers had to offer that maybe I could relate to better. I knew, as a cook, it was just way past time to get a grip with this cooking technique. Thankfully, I found Laura Pazzaglia‘s site, Hip Pressure Cooking, right at the start. I like her approach. She’s extremely practical, honest and non-fanatical about her métier: she writes, “I would never recommend pressure cooking something unless this cooking method improves the food or recipe in some way.”
The big decision I was facing was whether to go stove top pressure cooker, or, get one of the new counter top electric ones. Laura likes and uses both, but the points she made in favour of the stove top route made sense to me: such pressure cookers can just be stored in with regular pots and can also be used like a regular pot, so they have a lot more use in life. So I went the stove top route, and can’t say I regret it, though I’d still like to try the counter top electric ones some day — people look like they’re having fun with the electric pressure cookers.
I settled on a brand new type of pressure cooker that was out, the T-Fal Nutricook. With its electric brain, it’s half way between stove top and electrical counter top. I asked for it for Christmas 2012 and was lucky enough to get it. I ended up loving it so much and getting so dependent on it that I bought a second Nutricook mid 2013. Now, many days and especially Sunday afternoons I’m with one with two pressure cookers on the go at once.
I now use the pressure cookers way more than I do my slow cookers. The recipes I’m finding are all really healthy, compared to so many slow cooker recipes which are really unhealthy. And while slow cookers require you to plan 4 to 6 to 8 hours ahead and put something on, if I find stewing beef on sale that day a pressure cooker will turn that into boeuf bourguignon for me in 50 minutes (and use less energy in doing so.) And on hot, humid summer days, they keep all their heat and humidity to themselves inside them instead of heating up the kitchen.
Pressure cooking lets me cook many things completely fat free, and saves cooking fuel at a time when rates are sky rocketing. I’d never be without it now. It lets me turn healthy food which was taking hours to prepare back into “fast food.”
I’m a total convert and I kick myself for not going this route years before. I still need to work through Laura’s pressure cooking lesson plan so I can make sure to pick up all the tricks.
Here’s my full write-up on the history, etc, of pressure cookers.