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Frugal Nugget #2: Meet Your New Best Friend

February 26th, 2010 at 11:54 am



My mom often used a pressure cooker when I was growing up. That rapid-fire, sizzling sound coming from the kitchen usually meant that something delicious was in the works. I have one of my own today, but truth be told, I don't haul it out often. That's going to change, because cooking meals with a pressure cooker offers numerous benefits.

If you're unfamiliar with how a pressure cooker works, it's simply a specially designed, airtight cooking pot with lid that cooks food using high temperature steam. When you add a small amount of liquid, such as water or chicken broth, the pressure cooker traps the steam that rises from the liquid and raises both the temperature and pressure inside the cooker to cook the food.

Here are four tremendous advantages pressure cookers offer the frugal cook:

1. Pressure cookers are fast.
Pressure cooking can cook food in a fraction of the time needed to cook food by other means, whether that means an electric stove, gas stove or slow cooker. Here are some sample cook times for pressure-cooked meals that typically require an hour or more in a conventional oven:
* Root vegetables: 6 minutes.
* Beef pot roast: 35 to 40 minutes
* Meatloaf: 10 to 15 minutes
* 2- to 3-pound whole chicken: 12-18 minutes
* Chicken drumsticks, legs or thighs: 5 to 7 minutes

2. Pressure cookers save you money.
Pressure cookers save you money in several ways. First, because pressure cookers cook foods up to 70% faster than other methods, you'll use less energy preparing family meals.

According to calculations made by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, a whole chicken that would require about an hour-and-a-half of cooking time in a conventional oven would cost .90 to cook in an electric oven, .17 in a gas oven and .08 in a pressure cooker.

A risotto simmering for 45 minutes would cost .23 if cooked on an electric stove top, .08 on a gas stove top and .03 in a pressure cooker.

Potatoes that were roasted for 60 minutes would cost .60 on an electric stove top, .11 on a gas stove top and .02 in a pressure cooker.

Pressure cookers use considerably less water than conventional cooking by boiling food. Depending on the pressure cooker brand, one need only add a half cup of water to cook corn-on-the-cob in a pressure cooker, for example. After three minutes at high pressure, it'll be time to butter your corn. So you'll save water, save the energy to heat all that water to boiling and save energy in cooking the corn for a shorter period of time. What's more, the corn will be more nutritious because the vitamins haven't been boiled away.

When used in summer, pressure cookers don't heat up the house like a conventional oven would, so you'll save on your cooling bills.

Best of all, pressure cookers allow you buy inexpensive dried beans or cuts of meat that would normally require hours of cooking to tenderize. Pressure cooking can turn a normally laborious, time-intensive task such as boiling leftover bones from meat for flavorful stews into a breeze.

3. Pressure cookers preserve food's nutrients.
Vegetables are a great example of how pressure cooking retains important food nutrients. Steamed vegetables retain more nutrients than boiling and because they're cooked so quickly, they also retain their bright colors and fresh taste.

Pressure cookers make cooking dried beans a snap. Dried beans are generally healthier than canned beans or other canned vegetables because they don't contain added sugars, preservatives or chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA)that are used in the inside lining of most canned goods.

Because pressure cooking is quick and easy, you'll find you have less excuses to stop for fast food or a pizza on the way home from work. Home-cooked meals are vastly better for your health than meals eaten out because they contain fewer hidden calories, salt, preservatives, artificial colors and fats.

4. Pressure cookers are good for the environment.
Pressure cookers reduce your energy usage due to reduced cooking time and so ease the load of greenhouse gas emissions you produce from your electric or gas stove.

How does pressure cooking compare to microwave cooking?

Unlike microwave-cooked food, which often heats unevenly or appears an unappetizing shade of gray, pressure-cooked foods remain moist and succulent.

How does a pressure cooker measure up to a slower cooker?

While slow-cooked foods usually require eight or more hours to cook most foods, a pressure cooker cooks most foods in under an hour, and sometimes just minutes. That's because a slower cooker operates at a relatively low temperature (about 175 to 200 degrees) over many hours, while a pressure cooker runs at a much higher temperature, typically over boiling (239 to 244 degrees). Both deliver a tasty meal, but the pressure cooker also saves significant time and money.

Using a slow cooker, or crock pot, also requires a great deal of advance planning and organization. The prep work for a meal has to be done the night before, or in the morning before you leave for work so that it will be ready when you return that evening. This is probably one reason why those who own slow cookers don't use them regularly.

Pressure cookers, on the other hand, let you to whip up a delicious meal at a moment's notice.

If you decide to give pressure cookers a try, be sure to purchase a new one that features all the built-in safety features of today's models. Older versions, perhaps like those used by your mother or grandmother, did not contain this new technology.

What percentage of your cooking is done using your stove/oven, slow cooker, microwave and pressure cooker?

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Frugal Nuggets represent the occasional piece of frugal wisdom for those who have mastered the basics.

9 Responses to “Frugal Nugget #2: Meet Your New Best Friend ”

  1. dmontngrey Says:

    Wow, thanks for this article! Got me interested. We'll see. Smile I am especially interested in cooking a chicken so quickly.

  2. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    We have my parents' pressure cooker that was a 1946 wedding gift. We use it mainly for dry beans and to tenderize meat for beef stew. The pan also is great for making popcorn (without pressure!). It conducts heat evenly so that the popcorn never scorches. Newer pressure cookers are not as thick as my old one, so they might not be as good for popcorn.

    Everyone who has a freezer and likes corned beef should stock up on it around St. Patrick's when it is in all the stores. Cooks up nice & tender in pressure cooker.

    You can even "bake" potatoes in them.

  3. fern Says:

    Joan, while research my story I came across warnings not to use very old pressure cookers because they didn't have the 2 or 3 built-in safety features which would prevent an explosion.

    It sounds like you know what you're doing, but even so, I think I'd feel safer with a newer model.

  4. LuckyRobin Says:

    I used to hate pressure cooking because you had to wait for it to get up to temp before you started timing the food and it seemed like it took forever and you had to babysit the thing. Then I got one of the new-fashioned electric ones that automatically starts your timer for you when it gets up to temp and I fell in love with it.

  5. fern Says:

    What brand is yours, Lucky Robin?

  6. Daddy Paul Says:

    There are so many things that I will not eat unless it is cooked in a pressure cooker. Corned beef and cabbage is one of them. I’m getting hungry. Good read.

  7. Dido Says:

    So how did the attempt to use a pressure cooker more work out? I am contemplating the purchase of an electric one to replace my rice cooker, whose lining is beginning to peel.

  8. PatientSaver Says:

    While I love the IDEA of a pressure cooker, I find I still don't use it so infrequently, partly becus each time I do use it I have to reread the directions for how to cook things.

    My slow cooker is much more of a breeze to get going and I use that more.

    Welcome back, by the way. Guess you entirely missed our little snow squall!

  9. Dido Says:

    No, didn't miss the squall--we got a foot here and my power was out for two days...other friends here were out for four. I started my job on Tuesday--that's had my attention!

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