When you see someone cooking in Brazil you are more than likely to see a pressure cooker on the stove. The other day, driving home, there was a man cooking on the street with a pressure cooker. A couple of nights ago I didn’t have enough time to cook a beef stew, and instead I tossed all of the ingredients into the pressure cooker, cooked it for 30 minutes, and I was rewarded with a tasty stew that was ready in record time! Every household in Brazil will at least have one pressure cooker and you can guarantee that it is one of the most used kitchen items. Having a pressure cooker is a must-have when cooking Brazilian food, and once you get the hang of it and see how much time you can save when using it, you will never want to cook without it.
Ok, so pressure cookers may be a little bit scary and make a lot of noise when cooking, but trust me they are a kitchen life-saver! Not just used for beans, pressure cookers are used for anything that may take longer than 30 minutes, potatoes, soups, stews, broths….etc!
So what exactly is a pressure cooker? We may have all heard about it, but let me explain a little bit about how it works as it is not a common kitchen appliance in all parts of the world. A pressure cooker uses water, or other cooking liquids, in a sealed pan that does not allow air to escape. Pressure cookers heat food quickly because the internal steam pressure from the boiling liquid causes saturated steam (or “wet steam”) to bombard and permeate the food. Thus, higher temperature water vapor (i.e., increased energy), which transfers heat more rapidly compared to dry air, cooks food very quickly. Pressure cooking allows food to be cooked at higher temperatures, when using a normal boiling method water will heat to 100C and remain at this boiling temperature. With a pressure cooker the boiling point of water increases as the pressure increases. Liquid in a pressure cooker can reach a temperature of 121C resulting in much faster cooking times! After cooking, the built-up pressure needs to be released so that the pan can be safely opened.
History tells us that in 1679 a French physicist, Denis Papin, invented the “Steam Digester” an airtight vessel that used steam to increase the boiling point of water and as a result reduced cooking times. In 1795 Nicolas Appert developed a canning process of packing clean jars sealed with a cork and cooking them in boiling water. Appert’s invention combined with Papin’s “Steam Digester” helped in the development of the pressure cooker as we know it today. In 1917 pressure canning began to become popular in the US and was determined by the US Department of Agriculture as the safest way for preserving low acid foods. A 10 gallon pressure canner was developed for home use and together with it, homemakers began to discover the benefits of using the pressure canner to speed up the process of cooking foods. In 1938 Alfred Vischler introduced his “flex-speed pressure cooker”; the first saucepan-style pressure cooker. In 1939 the “Presto” cooker was introduced and became a popular pressure cooker in the USA.
Today, pressure cookers are not widely used in the USA. Finding one for sale in a store can be a challenge. While living in the USA I gave-up trying to find a pressure cooker and instead acquired one in Brazil! The pressure cookers in Brazil are slightly different from what I found in the USA and I like the ones here much better. But don’t despair, you can buy great pressure cookers in the USA. But, you are better off purchasing it online. Here are a couple of links to point you in the direction of making your first pressure cooker purchase.
- A search on Amazon.com gives you pressure cooker options from $25 to over $100.
- Wiliam-Sonoma will give you much more expensive options.
- Macy’s gives you mid-range prices.
- This is an excellent pressure cooker that I have used and highly recommend!
Before you use a pressure cooker for the first time there are two things you need to remember, (1) that the lid is properly sealed before turning on the heat, and (2) release all of the pressure, once finished cooking, before you open the lid.
A little story about what happened to my husband and I when our pressure cooker was not sealed properly: everything in the kitchen was eerily quiet, the pressure cooker was not singing its usual song, when suddenly it started with a loud bang. This was clearly not normal so we both rushed to the kitchen. To our horror (probably more mine) purple steam was flying out of the pressure cooker staining our ceiling and walls. There was only one thing that we could do…wait for all the steam to be released onto our walls and ceiling…! Needless to say I spent the next two hours trying to wash the purple bean-steam off my white walls and ceiling. This has only happened once, but when the lid is not sealed properly you can expect similar results!
For my simple bean recipe that uses a pressure cooker CLICK HERE!