Friday, 28 March 2008

Why I don't like pressure cookers

I forgot to tell you - I acquired a pressure cooker. A reasonable deal on Amazon - 50% off - but . . .

It's just as bad as they always used to be, except marginally less scary.

Now you may well have a pressure cooker and love it to bits but here's why I don't like them.

I've made two things with it, a chicken stock and some cannelini beans and both would have been better if I'd made them the conventional way.

The handbook advised me to cook my chicken carcasses for 40 (yes, forty) minutes which seemed an incredibly long time but as I hadn't used it before I took their word for it. Of course it came out cloudy and slightly bitter-tasting. Better when it was skimmed but I ended up - most unfrugally - throwing it away.

The beans, I was told, didn't have to be pre-soaked, simply submerged in boiling water for an hour which seemed like a good time-saving notion but it was far from clear how long they needed to be cooked.

The handbook didn't mention them. It recommended 5 minutes for haricot beans, 10 minutes for small butter beans and 15 for kidney beans to which cannelini beans are related. I decided to give them 12 and found they'd started to fall apart when I opened the cooker.

I also thought they were less digestible than usual though that may be my imagination or general grumpiness about the whole enterprise.

I'll give it another go but if all else fails at least I've got a large saucepan for cooking pasta.

Unless you're pulse-mad and cook them a couple times a week from scratch I wouldn't bother.


The Veggie Queen said...

I do love my pressure cooker and have gotten others to fall in love in the same way.
Not sure which brand you have but I can assure you that most of the booklets that come with the cooker are terrible. The recipes are unclear and most of them just don't work. I have many that I have developed in the past 10+ years that I have been teaching pressure cooking, and they DO work.
I always presoak my beans with a quick-soak because they taste better that way.
You might want to try again and if you want some recipes let me know. Check out my DVD at

Fiona Beckett said...

Hi Veggie Queen

You're obviously the pressure cooking mentor I need! So how long do you recommend cooking chicken stock (even though, I imagine, you don't make it)

Saffron said...

I am also a HUGE fan of my pressure cooker and make beans all the time with it. Different cookers cook at different pressure, but I think the times your manufacturer gives are probably off.

I always soak a few varieties at the same time (usually overnight, but it can be less), and cook them up in batches, which I divide into recipe sized portions (equivalent to a can of beans minus the liquid), and freeze (I'm a frugal cook, too, and would have to lug great tins of the stuff back on public transport even if I wasn't...).

The times I use for soaked beans are: canellini: 2 minutes after coming to pressure; pintos: 3 min; chickpeas: 3 min; red kidney beans: 4 min; butter beans: 5 min.

Always go for less time as you can always give them a bit of extra if they need it. More than likely you will be cooking them further, anyway, so no sweat if they are not cooked all the way through.

Fiona Beckett said...

Thanks for these tips, Saffron. I think you're right - the beans would definitely be better pre-soaked in cold water rather than using the short-cut method which is what I do when I'm cooking them conventionally.

Only worry I would have is about cooking times with kidney beans which are supposed to boil for 10 minutes when you cook them in a pan but I guess the pressure in the cooker replicates that in a much shorter period. I'll brave it and try again!

Lola said...

I know what you mean about pressure cookers - they used to be quite intimidating. My grandmother used hers to cook absolutely everything. I never understood it, although her Kai Si Ming recipe was bang on the money every time. I suppose then, that I associate pressure cookers with great comfort food and that 'chuck it all in one pan' kind of attitude which is a great way to cook when you're feeling lazy or experimental!

Anonymous said...

In NZ I cooked corned beef in my pressure cooker, served traditionally with mustard sauce, mashed potato, cabbage and carrots, all of which utilise the cooking liquor. Yummy! Unfortunately, I can't find corned beef here. Can anyone help? Ashley on "Coronation St" mentioned it - is it a Northern thing?

Fiona Beckett said...

anonymous, I guess what you're probably referring to as corned beef with those kind of accompaniments is salt brisket which is certainly scarcer than it used to be but you can still find in some traditional butchers all over the UK, not just in the north. You'd probably have to order it though. Makes a terrific meal!

Lola, I'd love to know what Kai Si Ming is . . .

Dave said...

I'm still feeling my way with my first pressure cooker (my mom had one of the old-fashioned bobblehead models years ago), but I love it so far. The instruction book and short cookbook that came with it are basically useless, but I'm working out the details.
Regarding beans: I've had mixed success. I cook beans often in a conventional pot, and rarely bother with the one-hour "quick soak"--it's wasted time, because it doesn't save you the hour it takes. Overnight soaks do seem to make the beans better, but if I don't remember, I just dump them in the pot and cook them. In that case, cooking times may vary by an hour or more, but we rarely notice because we EXPECT dried beans to take a long time. In the pressure cooker we expect quick results, so a difference of a few minutes, though it's the same percentage of total time, sticks in our minds.