Pressure Cooker Myths
If you grew up in the USA, you’ve heard some horror story from an older relative about how years ago, a pressure cooker exploded all over the kitchen when left on the stove unattended. The story always seems to end with, “Nobody got hurt, but it was a big mess to clean up! They’re dangerous!” What they left out of the story is that the pressure cooker performed exactly the way it was designed. When too much pressure built up in the pot, the safety valve allowed the steam (and some food) to escape through a small hole, instead of the lid flying off and injuring someone. When used properly, pressure cookers are not dangerous.
What do Pressure Cookers have to do with Spanish Cuisine?
In Spain, no self-respecting housewife would be without her olla express or pressure cooker! Spanish women usually grocery shop each morning to purchase fresh meats and produce. They put their pressure cookers on around noon. By the time the family arrives home for “la comida” – the large midday meal, a delicious stew or casserole is ready to serve, piping hot. In fact, you can walk down any street in Spain around noon and hear the hissing of pressure cookers coming from the windows of apartments and flats. Even working mothers use them to prepare meals faster.
Spanish cooks have long known about the other advantage to pressure cookers - They allow cooks to buy less expensive cuts of meat that are often tough, and turn them into tender morsels.
The Time Factor
When our children were small, we first used an old pressure cooker of my mother’s. Then, while visiting family in Spain, we saw how fast new pressure cookers work. So, we ditched the old one and bought a new one at a department store here in the USA. We eat earlier than we used to and we eat stews and bean dishes more often, even if we forget to soak them the night before! A pot of beans and chorizo may need only 30 minutes in a pressure cooker, instead of an hour and a half in a regular pot.
Like everywhere else, the pace of life has quickened in Spain and women don’t have endless hours to cook a stew or a pot of beans. To give you a general idea of how cooking time is sped up by using a pressure cooker, some cooking times from a pressure cooker user manual are: 12-18 minutes for a whole chicken (2-3 lbs.), 5-7 minutes for pre-soaked white beans and 35-40 minutes for a beef roast or brisket.
Since pressure cookers are very popular in Spain, there are several Spanish manufacturers. “Fagor” is a Spanish brand that has been making pressure cookers for 50 years and they are available at large retail stores all over Europe and the USA. However, there are many brands on the market that produce good quality cookers. Any pressure cooker you purchase comes with a user’s manual, containing safety precautions, cooking times for vegetables, beans and various cuts of meat.
Pressure cookers are safe when used according to directions. That includes following safety precautions. Four important safety rules are:
- Do not cook the following foods in a pressure cooker because they tend to foam and sputter, which may block the pressure release mechanism: applesauce, cranberries, pearl barley, oatmeal or other cereals, split peas, rhubarb or pasta.
- Do not fill a pressure cooker more than 2/3 full. If you are cooking foods that expand, like rice or dried vegetables, don’t fill more than 1/2 full.
- Do not open the pressure cooker until it has cooled and the inside pressure has been reduced.
- Do not open the pressure cooker towards your face, even if you have already released the pressure. There may still be steam inside.
More About Pressure Cookers
About’s Guide to Busy Cooks wrote a thorough and informative article All About Pressure Cookers and we recommend that you read the article to learn more about them.