Under pressure

Let’s hear it for the Royal Society.

Back in the day – the mid-seventeenth century – it was the focal point of advancement in science. I have one of its founding members, Robert Boyle, to thank for the miracle of last night’s lentil soup. He was the first to define the interrelationship of pressure, temperature, and volume, and his work led, circuitously, to the development of that most miraculous of appliances, the pressure cooker.

I bought one, on impulse, a couple of days ago. It’s a Cuisinart electric model, and I paid $69.99 for it at Costco. I took it home and, last night, made lentil soup.

It’s got several temperature settings, besides high and low pressure, so you can sauté your ingredients before you add liquids. I chopped up some bacon, and cooked it on “sauté.” Then came onions, celery, garlic, and carrots on “brown.” In went the wine, stock, and lentils, and on went the lid.

The moment of truth. I set it for eight minutes at high pressure, and went into the living room, braced for the explosion.

It made a few ominous noises, but no explosion came. It took a while – maybe ten or fifteen minutes – for the pressure to build, and then the eight-minute countdown began. It beeped when it was done.

I released the pressure valve, and the steam hissed out for a remarkably long time. Finally, when all was quiet, I opened the lid.

Kevin and I peered in. It sure looked like lentil soup.

“Those lentils can’t possibly be done,” Kevin said. “They were only in there for eight minutes.”

I took a spoon and tasted. They were done. And, once I’d added salt and a little balsamic vinegar, they were delicious.

I did the math, and I’m figuring the pressure cooker used about nickel’s worth of electricity to make my lentil soup. Had I made it on our propane stovetop, it would have cost about four times as much. If I use it twice a week, it’ll pay for itself in a mere six years. (The real cost savings, of course, comes from increased lentil consumption.)

I imagine the thrill of cooking lentils in eight minutes will wear off, but right now I’m still in awe of the magic of my pressure cooker, and giving thanks to Robert Boyle.

13 people are having a conversation about “Under pressure

  1. I love my pressure cooker. Once I got over pressure phobia, I really been into making beans and lentils and goulash cococtions. I had to replace the gasket recently, but you Yanks have probably invented some snazzy new-fangled version that doesn’t require a rubber gasket.

  2. Hmmm. We have a pressure canner, which turned out to be less exciting than we thought as far as speed and ease of canning. Basically, it takes quite a while to get it heated up (it holds about 19 pints) and then you put the jars in, and then cook for not so many minutes… and then you wait for it to cool before you take the jars out. It is faster to have 2 canners going on the stove plus it doesn’t make my beets as soggy 🙁

    It never occurred to me to look at a pressure cooker. That would make those community soups a lot easier to cook. Do you know anything about the nutrient retention of the food?

  3. I rediscovered my pressure cooker about a week ago when I cooked short ribs in 25 minutes. Pressure cookers are really worth the investment, although I’ve never heard of an one. In any case, I’m definitely going to use it a lot more, because what a fuel and time saver!

    I will caution you though, that many, many years ago I blew up a pressure cooker by cooking soybeans in it. A bean skin had gotten loose and clogged up the vent, so it blew the pressure valve with a mighty boom. I was still shaking from the awesome startling I’d gotten (probably adrenaline) when I peeked my head into the kitchen to see what had happened, and one side of the kitchen was engulfed in steam. My fascination with watching the steam dissipate was quickly changed to a feeling of ohhhhhh crap! as the kitchen cupboards, walls, ceiling, counters, etc., revealed themselves to be covered in bean skins. It took me the better part of the rest of the day to clean it all up, and by the time I got to the last of it, the skins had glued themselves pretty thoroughly to whatever surfaced they on and had to be scrubbed off.

    So enjoy your lentil soup. I, for one, will never cook legumes in a pressure cooker again.

  4. LOVE a pressure cooker. My mom used one for years, even if it was only for beef stew, its the best damn beef stew I’ve eaten still to this day. Please keep posting about food you make with it! I’m going to get one here in the next month or two I think, and I’d love ideas outside of Mom’s one dish.

  5. Okay, 8-minute lentils…nice. But I’d like to know how that thing handles black beans. These beans just seem impervious to cooking. (Not my homegrown, heirloom beans that happen to be black, but the standard, off-the-shelf black beans.) I got the hang of most beans, with the pre-soak and crockpot routine. But black beans defy me. Wanna try them out in a pressure cooker and report back? Please?

  6. Kristin — Yank though I am, I don’t think there’s any way to make a pressure cooker without a rubber gasket. I’m glad to hear that you’ve done lots of beans with no explosions to date.

    Eco — Hey! I know this one! What’s useful about a pressure canner isn’t that it’s a faster method to can things you can do in ordinary water — it’s that it gets to a higher temperature and therefore allows you to can things like meat, fish, and low-acid foods safely. I recently bought a pressure canner at a yard sale, and I’m thinking about experimenting with pickled bluefish in the spring.

    Paula — I’ve read the stories about bean skins, and it’s a little alarming. I’m going to take the risk, though, as beans are one of the foods that a pressure cooker is really good for. Gulp.

    Jen — You suppose they’d let me in?

    Brooke — Get your presuure cooker, and we can start a club! (Beef stew was on my list of things to try …)

    Kate — I will do it. Soon. Maybe today — black bean soup, anyone?

    Is your problem tough skins? Infinte cooking with no softening? I must say I”ve never found black beans to be more recalcitrant than others, but I suspect I don’t pay as much attention as you do.

  7. Hi Kate,
    I suspect you’re purchasing your black beans in a place where few are sold (a syndrome that feeds on itself, of course–people try the ancient beans and never buy them again). I live in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood in Miami Beach and the black beans I buy at Publix cook just as quickly as any others. Do you find the skins of yours tough, the interiors chalky? Old age–there’s not much good to be said for it!
    Tamar, you’ve got your father salivating for lentil soup with bacon. Thanks a lot.

  8. Ahh – fond memories of my mum pressure cooking absolutely everything for a very long time (ello, mushy veggies); the pressure cooker wedged between my sister and I on the back seat when we went on self-catering holidays (are there any other kind?) and hours and hours cleaning the walls, floor and ceiling of the kitchen at the small cafe I used to waitress at when the gasket on their pressure cooker failed and plastered all surfaces of the kitchen in hot chicken soup.

    I can’t bring myself to let a pressure cooker into this house. They scare me.

    Good luck!

  9. Mom — Everything’s better with preserved pork products. You know it’s true.

    Emily & Sarah — We’ve resigned ourselves to methane production. Luckily, the more beans you eat, the better you get at digesting them. And it’s just the two of us, and marriage gives you all kinds of latitude.

    Fiona — They’re better now, honest. Mine has a screen to prevent food from blocking the valve AND a safety valve if the pressure gets too high. Don’t be afraid!

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