Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pressure-Cooker Revival

Pressure CookerHere is a #slatepitch I can get behind... Rob Mifsud at Slate advocating for a pressure-cooker revival:
Ironically, the one thing standing in the way of the pressure-cooker revival is the single quality that once served as its main selling point. Slow-cooked, braised meats are now the rage, and convenience, as such, reeks of what's unhealthy and unappetizing. In the new Joy of Cooking's 1,132 pages, the authors devote a mere dozen paragraphs to pressure cookers, which is apparently all they need to equate them with other culinary cop-outs: "We often wonder what is done with the moments saved by [convenience foods’] purchase and preparation," it begins, before pressing the attack. "Something, we assume, of major importance, to compensate for their secondhand flavor." Ouch! "For the cook who is in a hurry," concede the editors, "we offer the pressure cooker as a kind of consolation prize."

Pressure cooking is not a consolation prize. The key is knowing when to do it. People who cook beans or make stock should own one. Same goes for those who love risotto; they'll learn, after one bite, that pressure cooking carnaroli makes a flawless texture.

But even the most ardent pressure cooker fans ought to acknowledge that their favorite device is superior only under certain circumstances. “Pressure cookers should be avoided when precise temperature control is critical,” advises Myhrvold. Those inclined to give the appliance a shot should beware of true believers. Pressure cooker evangelists like Vickie Smith (more popularly known by her nom de cuisine, Miss Vickie) will use the technique for pretty much anything, from hard-boiled eggs to pasta. Miss Vickie describes pressure-cooking as "the perfect cooking method for today's hectic lifestyle," then advances a method for "two- and even three-course meals made all at once." Her website is a wonderful resource for novices, but pressure cooking pasta for seven minutes sounds like a recipe for glue, not convenience.
Anna and I were just talking about how we don't use it nearly as much as we should (so maybe we need a little mini-revival in our apartment)... and it's certainly the best way to make beans or a stew on a weeknight. I have some sympathy for the "slow food" approach, generally preferring making long simmered cooking projects on a weekend afternoon... but the ability to cook a full flavored stew in an hour is not something to be disparaged for its "convenience"... I mean those dudes on Iron Chef America make things in a pressure cooker all the freaking time and you don't see the judges complaining. The one thing I've never done with it is make stock... and I'm not really sure why. I guess because I like the overnight method Ruhlman suggests for when I make the occasional roast chicken... and I can't really motivate myself to a bunch of chicken wings and thighs to make stock no matter how many times people tell me homemade stock is the key to great cooking or whatever. I guess it's a personal failing, but I have yet to be convinced to give up store bought broth and bullion except when I'm making actual chicken soup.

One thing that Misfud points out is that it's really just "a pot with benefits" and we probably use ours most often as a regular pot with a glass lid... so it's not like it's useless when you're not making beans. However the thing he doesn't mention is that if you ever want to do pressure canning (for canning things with low acid that need 240 degree sterilization) then you'll need a pressure cooker... so if you have a garden you might want to think about one too.