The latest “green” cooking tool is 70 years old, and it used to explode.
The pressure cooker is experiencing a revival of sorts, now that technology has blunted the risk involved in cooking with steam pressurized to 15 pounds per square inch. In the new millennium, its speed is touted as an environmental plus: Because it uses less gas or electricity, it’s “one of the most eco-friendly cooking methods available,” says the jacket of one of two new cookbooks that focus on the power of this pot.
Authors Laura Washburn and Richard Ehrlich are both American expats living in England, and their books have much in common. Both reassure that the pressure cooker of today is safer than your grandmother’s volatile version. Both describe how pressure cookers get the job done. Both offer advice on how to choose one: Don’t buy cheap, and bigger is better. (Neither author, though, gives any guidance in the choice between stove top and electrical cookers — a small shortcoming.) Both have handy lists of average cooking times for a few specific ingredients. Both are clear and exacting in their cooking directions.
Ehrlich’s book was first published in England, and it includes a few dishes less widely known or appreciated in this country — Sussex pond pudding, pork knuckles, braised rabbit — which is an interesting plus.
Of course, a cookbook is supposed to inspire you to cook what’s in it, and the surefire way to accomplish that is through photographs. Most of Ehrlich’s recipes are not illustrated, yet inexplicably, the book is laced with pictures of raw ingredients: potatoes, chili peppers, cabbage, rice, an herb bouquet, peaches. I’d rather see how the Pork Loin, Potatoes and Cracklings and that pond pudding are supposed to turn out.
An appealing image adorns every recipe in Washburn’s book, which apparently was produced with help from Ehrlich, whom she thanks in the acknowledgments. The opening pages are invaluable and offer the most illuminating piece of information in either book. “When I first started using a pressure cooker, I found many of the recipes bland and watery,” Washburn writes. That’s because intense flavors often are a product of cooking liquids that have been allowed to reduce, she says, which cannot happen during pressure cooking. Her suggestions for boosting flavor will be helpful going forward, no matter whose book you’re cooking from.
My biggest quibble with Washburn is her subtitle. “More Than 50 Recipes”? I count 48; the publisher says a few variations keep the round number intact. No matter. I think you’ll get your money’s worth.
By Richard Ehrlich
By Laura Washburn
Ryland Peters & Small, 2012