If there's one thing we never have enough of, it's time. This is why takeaway meals are often the order of the day, and delicious desserts like pears poached in red wine are reserved for very special occasions.
Thankfully, there's now a quicker, healthier option, even for mid-week meals. Pressure cookers are like the time machines of the kitchen, speeding up meal prep by cooking food fast, under… well, pressure.
How fast is fast, exactly?
Pretty damn fast! For example, lamb shanks will cook in a slow cooker over seven hours, on a cooktop in two-and-a-half hours, and in a pressure cooker in only 45 minutes! How's that for the last-minute chef?
Is it healthier? Cheaper?
Only a small amount of water is needed to fill the pressure cooker with steam, so the health benefit is that the food retains vitamins and minerals that would otherwise be dissolved in the water. And the financial benefit is that pressure cookers work well with relatively inexpensive cuts of meat, such as stewing beef, shank or blade – they soften right up.
What if it explodes?
A pressure cooker is simply a pot with a lockable lid, meaning heat and pressure build up in the pot, creating higher temperatures than you would get from an oven or slow-cooker. While the pressure cookers we've tested in the past have been safe, last year Aldi sold a faulty pressure cooker which exploded, causing at least six people to sustain second- and third-degree burns. Models with more than one locking mechanism, such as a locking lid, are safer than one that simply twists onto the top of the cooker, so make sure you inspect the locking mechanism in-store before purchasing.
Pressure cookers: the pros and cons
- Less energy used than ordinary saucepans.
- Shorter cooking times.
- Fewer nutrients lost through dissolving in water.
- Less heat and smells in kitchen.
- Can be used as a regular pot without a lid.
- Can't be left unattended.
- Take a while to get the hang of.
- Need to let pressure go down before taking lid off (some have a steam release so you can skip this step). Always use a tea-towel to keep your hands safe.
OK, I need more pressure in my life. What should I look for?
This is a valve you can turn to release steam, which means you don't have to carry the pressure cooker to the sink or allow extra cool-down time at the end of cooking.
More than one locking mechanism, such as a locking lid, is safer than one that simply twists onto the top of the cooker.
A pressure indicator shows when it's safe to open the pressure cooker. This can be via a level that visually raises and lowers, or a change of colour to signify pressure.
Different pressure settings allow you to adjust the amount of time it takes to cook different dishes. The higher the rated pressure, the quicker the cooking time. We found pressure cookers rated from 41kPa (6PSI) to more than 130kPa (18.9PSI).
Size makes a difference – the popular six-litre pressure cooker won't fit a whole chicken or large meat joint, but sizes up to 12 litres are available for that sort of cooking.
From $70 to over $500.