Many readers have written asking why I’m recommending the use of pressure cookers in many of my Indian recipes when pressure cookers have quite the “bad boy” reputation of being inherently dangerous. Also whether using pressure cookers is “mandatory” if you wish to “cook in a JIFFY.”
(This is an excellent video about a pressure cooker that I found on you tube. I use this product but I am not affiliated with this product).
To the first part of the question, my general answer would be that yes, using sub-standard pressure cookers can be dangerous but only as dangerous as sub-standard microwaves, electric kettles or gas stoves can be. In fact, an ill-maintained kitchen can be a very dangerous place for anyone, especially small children.
But to the second part, I have to admit that Indians, from slum dwellers to millionaires, love using pressure cookers simply because nothing can cook food faster than these. Pressure cookers are fast because they cook at the temperature of steam—at over 120 degree Centigrade (or 254 Degree Fahrenheit), and not at the temperature of water that boils around 100 degree Centigrade (or 212 degree Fahrenheit ) that open non-pressurised vessels like woks and pans work with. Just on that count, Pressure cookers can be termed “green” because they help save fuel, which in any case is becoming more and more expensive, especially in countries like India. In addition, pressure cookers are considered to preserve nutrition better which is otherwise lost when food is cooked over extended periods of time. Because of these higher temperatures, pressure cookers are also believed to kill bacteria and breakdown many a pesticide or chemical that our food may often be contaminated with.
On the negative side, using pressure cookers certainly requires a little more manual effort than pushing buttons on a microwave or an oven. You also need some dexterity and practice to make sure that the lid fits well, otherwise the cooker may not attain full pressure. Finally, when using a microwave or oven, you can select a programme and leave the kitchen, if you wish, for the selected time, to watch TV or whatever. But you should NEVER ever leave a pressure cooker unattended as it will not switch off on its own like a microwave or an oven does! This may not be a problem if you are attending to some other tasks in the kitchen in a “parallel processing” mode, to really help cook in a JIFFY.
For occasional cooking of Indian dishes, I won’t recommend that any one should invest in a pressure cooker. Even in India, most of the road side eateries (dhabas) practice all kinds of alternate ways to cook without using pressure cookers. These include marinating the meats or pre-soaking the dals (lentils). The Chinese practice of cutting meats in thin slices, or mincing it, is also a sure shot way to ensure that your meats cook well, in woks or pans, without a pressure cooker.
If you do decide to use a pressure cooker, a tip from my experience is to eat “pressure cooked food” after a while, say after 1-2 hours, if you can help it, as I find this enhances flavours. This may be because the time gap allows all flavours to seep in properly.
As for recommending a good brand of a pressure cooker, I’d rather not suggest any, as brands and their reputation vary from country to country. Just pick up a pressure cooker that meets all your local safety standards and is manufactured and serviced by a reputed company.
But then this prescription should apply to every gadget that we use in our households every day, shouldn’t it?
This mission is dedicated to all those friends, relatives and acquaintances who have sampled my mom’s cooking either at my home or at my work place from my lunch-box. I’m starting with Indian cooking, so that the fear of “cooking curries every day” (that my friends in University College London would so often comment on) is banished forever.
We will love to post recipes that are unpretentious and literally come from your Mom's kitchen. They must allow themselves to be rustled up at home, from scratch, from fresh ingredients, in 30 minutes or so, with minimum equipment and fuss. We welcome ideas and tips that prove beyond doubt that cooking at home is NOT drudgery but a very enjoyable activity that also improves your family's health and well-being in a very cost-effective manner.
Those who wish to contribute similar recipes from their parts of the world, here’s a full throated invitation to come join us and make COOKING IN A JIFFY a worldwide movement for HOME STYLE cooking that also celebrates "togetherness in cooking "above everything else. Please send your articles with images (if possible) to this address and we will publish it by your name.