Cook the Book: Cooking Under Pressure

"We'll be featuring recipes for broths, stews, and vegetarian dishes that usually require hours of cooking time and pitting them against the quick-cooked versions."

20100118cookingunderpressure.jpgWhile watching an episode of Iron Chef America a few weeks ago I noticed early in the competition that both chefs were making very good use of their pressure cookers. They were cooking tough cuts of meat and tenderizing vegetables that usually call for hours of cooking time in a matter of minutes. This got me thinking: Why don't more home cooks use these seemingly miraculous kitchen appliances?

I have never used a pressure cooker, and it has barely ever crossed my mind to try one. I've seen plenty of them on thrift store shelves and in basements, but I'd never thought about investing in one of my own. This might have something to do with the fact that I have never eaten a meal made with a pressure cooker (knowingly, at least) and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that there was the fear of the pressure-cooker explosion. Founded or unfounded, a high-pressure cooking-related bomb detonating in my kitchen was kind of scary.

But thanks to a recommendation from Ed Levine, I got my hands on the 20th anniversary edition of Lorna Sass's Cooking Under Pressure. Sass is a culinary historian and James Beard–winning cookbook author. Her subjects have included vegan-, vegetarian-, and pressure- cooking. First published in 1989, this widely varied collection of recipes transforms meals that would take a solid day of cooking under normal circumstances into easy weeknight dinners. Soups, stews, and braises that have been relegated to weekend projects can be made in less than an hour, and vegetable and grain cooking times are reduced to mere minutes.

Pressure cookers have been used for years. In fact the first known version was made in 1679 by French physicist Denis Papin. Incredibly popular in India and all over Europe, the pressure cooker has fallen out of favor in the U.S. due to the advent of frozen dinners and microwaves. But, according to Sass, the versatility and flavors that the pressure cooker is capable of are unmatched by any other time saving appliance.

I've always been a person who relishes time spent in the kitchen and generally shies away from short cuts but the pressure cooker had me intrigued. I read up on pressure-cooker safety to put my mind at ease and ordered one for myself. If the pressure cooker was all it's cracked up to be, it was sure to be an indispensable addition to my batterie de cuisine.

Every day this week I am going to be testing recipes from Cooking Under Pressure and sharing my experiences with all of you. I thought it best to tackle the most time-consuming recipes in the book to see how the results measure up to their slow-cooked counterparts. We'll be featuring recipes for broths, stews, and vegetarian dishes that usually require hours of cooking time and pitting them against the quick-cooked versions. I'm not counting on any explosions, but it should be a pretty exciting week here at Cook the Book nonetheless.

Win 'Cooking Under Pressure'

Thanks to the generosity of the folks over at William Morrow, we are giving away five (5) copies of Cooking Under Pressure this week. All you have to do is tell us about your oldest and most consistently useful kitchen tool in the comments section below.

Five (5) people will be chosen at random among the eligible comments below. We're sorry, but entry is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. Comments will close Monday, January 25 at noon ET. The standard Serious Eats contest rules apply.