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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Pressure Cooker

Frugal Kitchens 101

Prior to the microwave oven frugal cooks wanting to save time and money used a pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker does exactly what it sounds, it cooks food under pressure.  Normal cooking to a boil will cook at 212ºF but under pressure the temperature is 240ºF.  In addition to the higher temperature the pressure tenderizes tougher cuts of meat.  The pressure allows flavours to permeate quickly through the food as well.  Unlike a microwave oven, browning is quite possible using a pressure cooker.  Browning the meat prior to pressure cooking adds to the richness in flavour.  Cooking under pressure greatly reduces the cooking time and it does not heat up the kitchen the way an oven would.  Long cooking foods like stock that if done in a stock pot normally take a few hours but using a pressure cooker a rich, full flavoured stock can be made in about 40 minutes!  In my opinion a pressure cooker is a must have in any frugal kitchen.

Of special note, a pressure cooker cannot be used as a pressure canner but a pressure canner can be used as both a cooker and a canner.  The two main reasons why a pressure cooker cannot be used as a canner is size and pressure.  A pressure canner must be able to hold 4 - 1 quart jars something most pressure cookers are not big enough to do.  Pressure cookers are designed to operate at 15 lb pressure only but pressure canners are designed to operate at 5, 10, and 15 lb pressure.  Pressure cookers also take less time to come to pressure then pressure canners and the cool quicker than the larger pressure canners.  Processing times have been developed according to how the larger pressure canners perform not the pressure cookers so don't be tempted to use a pressure cooker for canning.

Pressure cookers are available in a variety of sizes.  In general it is better to buy one larger than you think you will use because it can only be filled ⅔ full.  I have 3 pressure canners (Mirro, All American) and 2 pressure cookers (Jasi, Fagor).  The Jasi is a 6 qt aluminum pressure cooker.  I paid somewhere in the $40 price range.  It is a first generation pressure cooker with a rocker regulator that gives an audible signal as to the pressure.  Getting used to a rocker regulator takes a few attempts.  Ideally the goal is a gentle rock not too slow and not a steady rock but somewhere in between.  The downside to the Jasi is it is aluminum so I don't use it for any acidic foods that could cause aluminum to leach into the food.  The Fagor is a 4 qt stainless steel second generation pressure cooker.  The regulator is in the handle so this pressure cooker is a lot quieter than rocker style models.  I use the Fagor a lot with my only complaint being I wish it were bigger.  I am planning on replacing the Jasi with a larger stainless steel Fagor.

When shopping for a pressure cooker:

  • Watch the sales.  Pressure cookers tend to go on sale just before Christmas and again in the spring.
  • Buy used.  If you want a great bargin pressure cookers can often be found at estate and yard sales.  Be aware though that some may need a new gasket.  
  • Stainless steel will cost more but after using both stainless steel and aluminum my recommendation is to go with stainless steel.
  • First generation (rocker style) or second generation (handle regulator) pressure cookers are equal in performance with both being calibrated to operate at 15 lb pressure.  As far as use goes it depends on what you get used to.  I've used rocker, petcock, dial and handle between my pressure canners and cookers.  When it comes to pressure canners I like the dial but with pressure cooker I really like the handle regulator.  This really is a matter of choice though.

6 food lovers commented:

LindaG said...

My grandmother did a lot of canning. (Wish I had paid more attention then!)
I remember listening to the steam coming out of the round weight on the top. Loved to listen to it. She canned before there were regulations telling you how it had to be done, haha.
Thanks for this great article!

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Linda :) You are quite welcome! I'm glad you found it useful. It's surprising how popular canning has become again. That's nice to see.

LesZ said...

Hi Linda,
I have moved to Mexico where I live at5200 feet above sea level and cannot get my Jasi or my Presto pressure cookers to get up to full pressure. I have tried more water, less water (then the food burns quickly as the water evaporates faster at high altitudes!) higher and lower temperatures. Nothing seems to work and I am used to pressure cooking a lot of meals as it takes much less time and gas.
Can you help?

Garden Gnome said...

Not Linda and am not sure she follows my blog still, so I will give you my opinion. Since you can boil water at that altitude, you should be able to bring the pressure cooker to pressure. However, for every 1,000 ft above the 2,000 ft above sea level you need to increase the cook time by 5%. In your case you would need to increase the cook time by 15%. This link might help you

As far as getting to pressure, I would recommend checking the gaskets carefully. Be sure the gaskets are not worn or stretched otherwise they will not form a tight seal. You could try a little petroleum jelly on the gaskets as well.

LindaG said...

I don't comment as much, sorry, but I still follow!
Glad you could help her, GG, because I remain clueless but for blogs like yours.

Have a wonderful day!

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Linda! I was just thinking about you the other day so visited your blog. I love your red neck planter! I'll check back to see how the celery is doing. Take care :)