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Taking the bang out of pressure cooking

These are not your Grandma's touchy stove-top models — electric cookers brown, simmer and cook food quickly. And they shut off automatically. How do they rate? Five models were tested, with pleasantly surprising results.

December 08, 2011|By Noelle Carter | Los Angeles Times

While you can't run an electric cooker under cold water to quickly bring down the pressure after cooking, the models we tested come with quick-release pressure valves. Easy as they are to operate — flipping the knob to open — the short handle on many of the models makes it almost impossible to keep your fingers clear of the hot steam as it escapes. This is easily remedied by using a pot-holder or a long-handled utensil, but it can be a little alarming — and extremely hot — if you're not ready for it. The Fagor, Nesco and All-Clad test models had slightly longer handles, which was immediately appreciated.

So what about some of those other functions? Can they cook rice? The Fagor includes a specific rice setting in the display, and all the models except the All-Clad give some sort of instruction on cooking rice in their manuals (the Fagor and Cuisinart are very specific; the Nesco and Deni are much more vague). The results were hit or miss. The Fagor and Cuisinart made great rice the first time out; coaxing better results out of the others might just depend on getting more of a feel for the cooker.

And slow cooking? Sort of the opposite of pressure cooking, which involves cooking quickly under pressure, slow cooking involves heating a food over very low heat for hours on end, no pressure involved. The Nesco, Deni and Fagor doubled as slow cookers with pretty impressive results. The Fagor even offers high and low slow cooking options. We tested the models using a general slow cooker recipe for pulled pork; after several hours, the pulled pork came out moist and wonderfully flavorful; only the batch from the Fagor was a little dry.

The most important thing is getting to know each pressure cooker, and getting a feel for how each one works. One pressure cooker may heat more or less quickly than another, and moisture loss can vary between models. All of this can affect cooking time, consistency and flavor. Start by trying recipes that come with the unit; generally, they've been tested for that particular machine. Then experiment.

That said, I'm clearing a little space on the counter top, just in case Santa is listening.

noelle.carter@latimes.com

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