Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Pressure Cooker for the 21st Century

Pressure cookers are an extremely useful kitchen tool.  They greatly speed cooking and reduce energy usage by up to 70 percent.  This is because as pressure increases, so does the boiling point of water, which is the factor that limits cooking speed in water-containing foods (most foods).  If it weren't for my pressure cooker, I'd rarely eat beets or globe artichokes.  Instead of baking, boiling or steaming these for 60-90 minutes, I can have them soft as butter in 30.  But let's face it: most people are intimidated by pressure cookers.  They fear the sounds, the hot steam, and the perceived risk of explosion.  I escaped this because I grew up around them.

Recently, I was looking for a new pressure cooker to replace my abused old Presto.  I had my sights set on a modern "second generation" stainless steel model.  But looking around a bit more, I discovered that pressure cookers have evolved quite a bit in the last decade.  There's actually a "third generation" now: the electronic pressure cooker.  These not only pressure cook, they also slow cook, make rice, and can also brown meats/vegetables for stews.  They're even more efficient than traditional pressure cookers because they're insulated and release very little steam.  And they cook quietly, at the push of a button, while you do something else.

Of course I had to have one.  There are a number of models available, but I only found one that has a stainless steel insert rather than nonstick.  I don't really know whether nonstick is a health risk or not-- honestly I doubt it-- but I'm not going to do the experiment on myself.  Stainless steel is also more durable than nonstick, and durability is extremely important to me for both financial and environmental reasons. 

The model I found is called the Instant Pot LUX-60.  It seems to be marketed mostly to Asians (e.g., it has a congee setting), but it's perfectly adaptable to the Western kitchen.  I received it two months ago, and we've been using it several times a week since then.  It appears to be solidly built, and I expect it to last a long time.  The insert is fairly substantial stainless steel that has a 3-ply bottom for even heat distribution, and the gaskets are all made of durable silicone.

It's amazing how many things you can cook in it.  It fits a whole chicken, which cooks in 45 minutes (vs. 1.5 hours in the oven).  Rich soup stock from the bones takes 40 minutes.  Pre-soaked chickpeas are very tender in 25 minutes.  Pot roast in an hour and a half.  Four cups of rice cooks in under 30 minutes and comes out better than when I make it in my rice cooker.  All you have to do is press a couple of buttons and you're done.  Cleanup is a breeze.  I was initially concerned that the higher temperature would cause nutrient loss, but the reading I've done seems to indicate that it compares favorably to other cooking methods.

I'm always on the lookout for tools that allow busy people to cook at home in a more efficient manner, encouraging a wholesome and economical diet rather than relying on commercially prepared food.  This pressure cooker definitely qualifies.  I'm sold on this thing.  Can you tell?  My friends are getting tired of hearing me rave about it.  I promise Instant Pot didn't pay me to write this.

40 comments:

texmex said...

Funny your article comes up right now, I am just looking at what to cook in my newly purchased rice cooker.

Sara said...

I am a little scared of them, but I'm thinking of giving it a go. When I was young my mother DID have one explode, but that was ancient and had some sort of screw device on the top, band around the middle. It looked like a mediaeval torture device. The pic you have looks so very modern and not at all like it could kill you. I shall go check out what is available these days.

Unknown said...

Pressure cookers are used in India all the time! Almost no household is without them.And the Indian pressure cookers are typically have a much more dangerous design. I remember my American apartment mate in college being puzzled and fascinated by my Indian made pressure cooker!

Danielle said...

This appliance seems like a kitchen dream. While most of the time I don't mind the long cooking times of broth, beets, legumes, and rice (which I cook almost weekly) I could see this pressure cooker coming in handy. Never even though of purchasing one before, so thanks for sharing your new obsession. It might just become mine.

bentleyj74 said...

Great review :) Have you tried the stew meat yet? If so how did it turn out?

praguestepchild said...

I think that the increased pressure itself is a big factor in a pressure cooker's greatly decreased cooking time, not to mention it's ability to break down foods like tough meats.

Compare the increase in temp (100C to 120C) to the decrease in cooking times (~1/3) to the mush more linear effect of increasing the temp by 20% in the oven.

Brian said...

I love my pressure cooker. I use the 8 quart Fagor Duo. The thing is very easy to use, bonded base stainless steal, steamer basket. Like you, I make a ton of rice and stocks. My favorite use, however, is pressure cooking chicken wings until partially done and then finishing in the oven and tossing with butter, garlic and hot sauce. Results in crispy, non-deep fried in PUFA wings.

Alex said...

I have a Kuhn-Rikon Duromatic pressure cooker. My diet doesn't call for it very often, but it does a great job with the few uses I do have for it. On the rare occasion that I cook up dried beans, the pressure cooker is the only way I'll do it. I've also started using it to make stock, which it does just as well as the slow method. And, when I need some quick comfort food right out of the freezer, I'll pull out a couple containers of chicken stock and some frozen chicken and cook it with carrots, celery, and onion (in this case, it really helps to have the ridiculously hot burners of a Viking gas cooktop.)

G said...

Stephan,

Could you share how you make the rich soup stock from the bones in 40 minutes?

Thanks.

Galina L. said...

After watching American Test Kitchen review of the new electronic pressure cookers (they didn't like how new models were holding pressure), I bought the old cast aluminum type because my old one got out of shape. I mostly use it to cook bone broths, tough meats(like beef tong and jowl meat), and especially meat jello out of pig feet. I found out that beets cooking speeds up after per-cooking in a microwave for 3 min., and I stopped using pressure-cooker for beets because it feels like pressure extracts too much out of beet into the cooking liquid. I often saute julienned pre-microwaved beets with onions and tomatoes, it is really delicious.

Sanjeev said...

I used to use this for stew beef - the really cheap, relatively low fat stuff my local butcher has is extremely tough and the pressure cooker reduced the toughness quite a bit.

I stopped using mine for most meat (chicken and turkey breast excepted) because it gets hot enough for cholesterol autoxidation.

I still have a lot of meat, just cholesterol-filled meat I slice up thin and cook on low heat with the lid on, not letting it dry out.

> share how you make the rich soup stock from the bones in 40

Do you eat the marrow first? I love that stuff.

IF the bone marrow's still in there when you pressure cook the bones that could be more than a little cholesterol.

Sanjeev said...

> cholesterol-filled meat I slice up thin and cook on low heat with the lid on

just a regular pot, not my pressure cooker.

jocelyn said...

Wow! I'm sold. They are selling it on Amazon for a great price:

http://www.amazon.com/Instant-IP-LUX60-Programmable-Generation-Pot/dp/B0073GIN08/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340205820&sr=8-1&keywords=Instant+Pot+IP-LUX60

Beth@WeightMaven said...

One tip re making stock. You cannot fill a pressure cooker to the top (there needs to be room for steam to build pressure). So don't think (like I did) that an 8-quart pressure cooker will make 8 quarts of stock. Between the space and the bones, I am lucky to get 4 quarts.

Beth@WeightMaven said...

Oh, and if you care about flavor of stock as much (or more) as getting the good nutrients, this is a worthwhile read.

BSW said...

Been using a pressure cooker for 3 years now, ever since I spent some time in Cuba where it is a basic appliance in every kitchen.

Wonderful thing to own. Makes bone broth rapidly and delicious!

Nate said...

I would love to use a pressure cooker for bone broth, but WAPF-types warn against it because they say doing so destroys enzymes and denatures proteins. Anyone know if there's any validity to this?

Sanjeev said...

finally decided to answer my question eh?

http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/10/losing-fat-with-simple-food.html?showComment=1319909141663#c8120294901139296056 or click

> for Kamal and Stephan, pros and cons of using a pressure cooker (much shorter cooking time) instead of the slow cooker?

what a bad procrastinator - almost as bad as me

Pone Pequeno said...

Good question Nate!

Does pressure cooking destroy enzymes and denatures proteins???

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Nate,

All cooking destroys enzymes and denatures proteins. Thermally denaturing molecules including proteins is THE reason why we cook food-- it makes it more digestible, more tender, kills pathogens, and in some ways makes it more nutritious. The only way to preserve enzyme activity and not denature proteins is to eat your food raw. But obviously our digestive tract secretes plenty of enzymes so the lack of enzymes in cooked food isn't a barrier to digestion.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi bentley,

I made a pot roast but I didn't cook it long enough and it was tough. I only gave it an hour. We tried a stew with smaller pieces of beef and you can get it quite tender. The problem is that if you put your veg/potatoes in at the beginning, they turn to mush, so you have to stop it and give it another 15.

Hi G,

I just put bones in water and let it rip. If I'm feeling fancy, I'll stop it after 30 min and add vegetable scraps for another 15. That makes a fabulous stock.

Hi Beth,

Interesting article. The Instant Pot releases virtually no steam during cooking so it should produce a top quality stock, according to that person's conclusions. I've tried it a few times and I can say the stock it made was very good.

Monica said...

I love my pressure cooker, too. You have a fancy one -- sounds nice. I got mine from IKEA for only around $45. It is very easy to operate and safe, although a stovetop and it does release steam, so some manual adjustment of heat is necessary.

Unknown said...

I blew up one in the 70s, solder hit the ceiling.

George Henderson said...

Enzymes break chemical bonds in food, cooking breaks chemical bonds. Apart from a few special cases like bromelian (wonderful stuff for mucus congestion or potentiating antibiotics) or papain, I've yet to see any real science showing effects of enzymes in raw food.
If I cook food it digests much better than if I eat it raw (the only exception is meat) so I figure the raw vege enzymes are not actually much help.
Probiotics might be another story, any cooking would kill those.

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Thanks for sharing! I've been toying with getting one for a while now as many of the things I do "long and slow" in the oven seem awfully wasteful of energy.

"I don't really know whether nonstick is a health risk or not-- honestly I doubt it-- but I'm not going to do the experiment on myself."

Good plan :D I still use a non-stick fry pan though!

Galina L. said...

@Evelin,
While trying to find a non-stick pan my son wouldn't ruin while cooking for himself in university (ceramic one didn't survive even one semester), I came across the option of cast aluminum and cast iron. As a result I bought a thick aluminum one without any coating from a restaurant supply store for him. Nothing sticks to it now, even paper-thin crepes, but at the beginning it did. I also was pleasantly surprised to find out for myself the American vintage cast iron. It looks like there is nothing similar to quality anyplace else, and there are a lot of reasonably priced pieces on ebay. I think I would never buy another modern coated skillet again.

Peter said...

^Ok, Stephen take that above away. That wasn't nicely put. After all, you are my online buddy :)

-apologies

Mario Vachon said...

Just ordered one of those Instant Pots on Amazon. Just the ability to make bone broth quickly and easily makes it worthwhile for me. Looking forward to getting my new toy. Thanks Stephan.

jnkdaniel said...

wow. I pity people that manually cook rice...

Yet here i am regularly sprinting to my stove top pressure cooker.

I highly recommend regular cooking of jalepeno lemon chicken, beans (for bean, cheese, and rice breakfasts), and brisket.

jandro said...

Wow, what a coincidence. I bought the exact same modle for my parents 2 weeks ago.

I haven't used them, but I may make a visit and make some stock. Do you know if the stock would be as nutritious? The comments seems to indicate so but I remember Sally Fallon mentioning bad things about pressure cookers in Nourishing Traditions. What do you think?

Methinks said...

I've had the Cuisineart pressure cooker for a couple of years. It sells for about the same price as this one on Amazon, but this one is much fancier. SO convenient. I never worry about it blowing up. I did worry about the old fashioned stove top ones because if there's a way to screw that up, I will find it. These new countertop models are idiot proof. Everything cooks instantly and I can't lift the top off the cooker until the pressure is released (idiot proof).

DERIAN said...

Hey stephan,

On Chris Kresser's podcast he said you sent him about 9 papers on cooking temperature. Is there any way you can send those to me if I email you? Thanks

Derian

Mark Taber said...

Stephan,

You've sold me. Now, your 40-minute soup stock recipe, please. :)

neiani4blogger said...

I'm in a hurry and usually could not wait for the pressure to come down after cooking in it. . . so I run cold water from the kitchen faucet all over the un-opened Presto pressure cooker. In about 20-30 seconds I release the top pressure valve a bit and listen to the weak dying pressure sound till it's safe to remove it and uncover.

montediaz said...

http://www.amazon.com/All-American-921-2-Quart-Pressure/dp/B00004S88Z

I own the above pressure cooker/canner. Totally indispensable.

tito temo said...

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Gabriella Kadar said...

Could have used one of those today. I stewed a big honkin' ginormous chicken. A tough fullgrown bird. I think it took 3 hours on the stove. I don't know how much less time it would have taken with a pressure cooker. A definite plus would be programme it and forget about it. This is great. I love appliances that turn themselves off and I don't have to supervise, stir, check etc.

Several things discourage me from buying one of these electronic pressure cookers:

weight: 13 pounds
gasket: may as well order the spare when buying the new one.
space: limited counter space, storage would entail removing item from lower cupboard. Hard on recalcitrant back muscles.

Probably the big Le Creuset pot I use is just as heavy. It mostly lives on the stove.

elliebelly said...

Wow! This was just what I needed to hear about as I have been dithering over getting a second slow cooker or a rice cooker or what exactly would work in my limited space. THis sounded perfect. Got it a few days ago. Last night made a stew in a third the time it would have taken ordinarily. This morning made a steamed custard/soup kinda thing with eggs, broth, cream and veg. Took ten minutes and it did not heat up the kitchen!!!! Thanks so much for writing about it.

NANR said...

I have one too! Christmas present to myself and I was amazed by it. Use it 3+ time every night since it arrived. Super easy to use and clean. LOVE IT and highly recommend too!!!!! Made this working mamma who makes homemade clean nutrient dense foods for her family a must a much simpler life! Go stainless steal...non stick chemical surfaces are not as durable and I do not think they are healthy either.

indiaindiana said...

How did I not see this post earlier!!? Thanks, Stephan. You answered some of my concerns here. I'm living in India, and just made stock using a pressure cooker for the time a month ago. I used goat bones, because my usual beef bones are not to found anywhere here. It turned out great. I am glad to see you answer the question about the WAPF not recommending pressure cookers, either.
-JoAnne