Summer's here--a heat wave due any time, maybe--and yet here you are, craving for the comfort and aroma of hot food. A steaming bowl of beef chili or chicken stew on a warm evening? Perhaps some rice pudding or warm creme caramel ? It's easy to fall for these, particularly if the night offers a bonus of a gentle cooling breeze, but would anyone want to suffer through the long cooking preparation in a hot kitchen ?
Pressure cooker to the rescue. About 50% to 70% of cooking time can be saved by using this pressurized cooking vessel, which works on the principle of increasing the boiling temperature of water and trapping the steam produced. Even frozen foods need not be thawed before cooking in this cookpot.
In the past couple of years, pressure cookers have been a hot item. More and more cooks have erased from their minds danger images of explosions from using unsafe old cookers and have put their trust in modern pots with reliable, updated safety factors. The latest entry in the pressure cooker market is the DeLonghi Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker, which looks user-friendly indeed. The newer the unit, the more simple the styling, sans all the complicated-looking screws and valves.
A Six-Quart Cooker
Designed in Italy and manufactured by the world leader in home-heating appliances, the six-quart DeLonghi cooker ($89) is made of 18/10 stainless steel body and lid with graceful lines. The base plate is aluminum, which has the advantage of quick and consistent, even heating. For maximum safety, the following features are offered by DeLonghi:
An automatic valve allows the steam out from the inside, preventing an increase in pressure greater than that selected; the cooker cannot reach any pressure at all unless the lid is correctly closed; a device prevents the lid from being opened while there is still any pressure inside the cooker; an additional safety valve makes it impossible for damage to be caused to the cooker by an abnormal increase in the pressure; a pressure indicator allows you to see if there is any pressure inside the cooker. A small rear handle conveniently positioned opposite the long handle eases lifting or carrying the cooker.
Aside from all these safety elements and uncomplicated usage, what I like about this new cooker is the pressure selector. It can be switched to three cooking pressure levels (8, 12 and 17 PSI); the lower the pressure the longer the cooking time. Desserts like puddings and flans can be steamed using medium pressure. There is also a D position for dietetic, waterless or fat-free type of cooking and steaming without pressure.
To maximize energy savings when using a pressure cooker, the heat should be turned to low once the pressure indicator rises, indicating that the pressure has been reached.
There are so many uses for pressure cookers; even cheesecakes and flourless chocolate cakes can be done in them. They make the best stock, oxtail soup and pot roasts. You can even steam a meat loaf in it. One of my favorite uses for a pressure cooker is crispy fried chicken. After pressure-cooking the chicken parts for a few minutes, I drain the chicken then dredge the parts in a little cornstarch and deep-fry them. This way the frying step is minimized, but the best part is that the chicken stays moist inside and crisp on the outside.
The DeLonghi Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker is available at Adray's.