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Put your food under pressure so that you don't have to be. 

Gillie Houston
November 16, 2017

‘Tis the season for chaotic family gatherings, massive meal prep, and stress-filled trips to the grocery store for that one last ingredient you forgot to pick up the first or second time around. So, it’s no wonder that this year’s most popular kitchen appliance, the super-speedy pressure cooker, will play a huge role in the holiday meal prep playing out in kitchens from coast to coast.

For those uninitiated into the pressure cooker fandom, this old-school appliance actually goes back centuries, and was used in kitchens long before Crock Pots and Instant Pots hit the scene. In fact, the pressure cooker was invented way back in the 1600s by Denis Papin, a French man who discovered that intense steam pressure, when tightly contained, could cook food far faster than the typical pot or pan. Papin realized that by trapping an excess of steam inside an airtight pot, the pressure would mount and cooking would occur at rapid speeds. 

In order to reach the desired pressure point, the cooking pot is sealed with a pressure control valve inside, which can be released at the conclusion of cooking in order to safely open the hot, pressurized vessel. The effect of this contained pressure is that the boiling point of the water is raised to as high as 250°F, whereas the boiling point of a typical pot of water typically only reaches a maximum of 212°F. At the same time, this pressure forces liquid into the food faster, which speeds up cooking time and makes for seriously moist meats in no time at all.

Essentially, pressure cookers take the slow cooking process and speed it up, cutting down your cooking time by as much as 50 percent, and preserving moisture and nutrients in the process. 

Though the pressure cooker went out of style for many years—thanks, in part, to its intimidating and potentially dangerous nature—in recent years the appliance has been revived, and many home cooks are falling head-over-heels for the first time with this old fashioned device.

After all, pressure cookers can significantly reduce the cooking time of ingredients like rice and stews, and give a tenderizing boost to your roasts and braised meats. However, in order to properly utilize this unique device, it’s important to read the instructions carefully so you can safely navigate your machine. Prior to starting the pressure cooking process, always be sure to double-check all of the safety valves to make sure they are clean and unobstructed, and make sure that the rubber gasket is flexible before being inserted under the cooker lid.

Since pressure cookers are completely reliant on steam, always use at least 1 cup of whatever cooking liquid you’re relying on. However, make sure the pressure cooker is never more than half-full with liquid and 2/3 full altogether at any time, which will prevent any food from flowing out of the pressure release valve when your cooking is concluded.

Whether you’ve invested in an Instant Pot—the 7-in-1 appliance that not only works as a pressure cooker, but can also sauté, brown, warm, steam, and slow-cook foods—or a standard pressure cooker (if you're interested buying your first, you can easily order a pressure cooker on Amazon), there are many ways this appliance can make your life far easier this holiday season.

Put Pressure on Your Protein

The hardest, and most nerve racking, part of any holiday meal is perfecting your main protein, whether it be a turkey, ham, or chicken. By relying on these easy, speedy, hands-off main protein recipes, you’ll have more time to prep your sides and roll out your pie dough in peace.

This year, prep and cook your main course in under an hour with this amazing whole chicken recipe, which relies on the pressure power to cook your bird in just 40 minutes, along with celery, carrots, onion, and thyme.

More of a red meat fan? This Beef Pot Roast and Gravy is a quick and hearty gateway recipe to your pressure cooker, which also incorporates this easy Pressure Cooker Beef Stock. Or, feast on these Cabernet Braised Beef Short Ribs—which can be slow cooked in your Instant Pot to silky, succulent perfection—or this holiday-friendly Roast Pork with Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potatoes, another new favorite you’ll want to make for years to come. 

Note that standard pressure cookers don’t brown foods—the way an Instant Pot can—so in order to get that hearty taste, brown your meat prior to adding it to the pressure cooker.

Work on Your Side Show 

Once your main course has been tackled, get to work on all of your holiday sides with the help of your pressurized pot. Tackle some traditional mashed potatoes in your Instant Pot—using just half the time of the standard cooking method. Or steam some sweet potatoes in only 8 minutes, to be mashed into a silky, butter-topped side dish.

 

Or, try your hand at some unconventional sides, which will make for an exciting change to your traditional holiday meal and downsize your cooking time. Pressure cooker dishes like

Prosecco and Parmesan Risotto; Lemon, Wheat Berry, and Chickpea Salad; and Beets with Dill and Walnuts will fit in just fine at your dinner table. 

Instant Pots are also an amazing tool for making delicious seasonal soups like Butternut Squash Soup with Gouda and Curried Squash and Apple Soup for a mind-blowing first course. 

When making sauces or gravies in your pressure cooker, keep in mind that due to the moisture retained in the pot, sauces won’t thicken the way they do on the stove. Simply thicken your liquid post-pressure cooking by leaving the cooker on the heat after the lid has been removed, allowing the sauce to properly reduce, and add a little corn flour mixed with water to speed up the thickening process if necessary.

Simplify Your Non-Holiday Meals

On top of prepping your main holiday feasts, the season itself is jam packed with events, shopping trips, parties, and family obligations, and chances are you’ll be short on time, including in the kitchen.

Quick and easy pressure cooker recipes like Chicken Pho, Tangy Italian Beef Sandwiches, and Chicken with Honey Lemon Leeks will help you keep your friends and fam well-fed while cutting down on your kitchen-related stress.

Convert Your Favorite Recipes

While pressure cookers are typically relied on for foods that need longer cooking times, pretty much any beloved recipe can be adapted for the pressure cooker treatment. In order to convert your old favorites into pressure cooked recipes, start by prepping the ingredients in the same way, and ensuring you have 1-2 cups of liquid minimum in the recipe to create steam. Cut back on your cooking time by at least 25 percent, but start by checking the progress half-way through the typical cooking time to ensure you don’t overcook your dish. 

A good rule of thumb for pressure cookers is that when it comes to timing, err on the side of undercooking a meal rather than overcooking it. While you can always restart the pressure cooking process if your dish needs a little more time on the heat, once it’s been overcooked there’s no turning back.

In order to ensure even cooking, make sure to cut your ingredients into uniform sized pieces before dropping them in the cooker, as you won’t be able to easily monitor or adjust the cooking process once it has began. 

When cooking meat and vegetables at the same time, work in order of required cooking time, releasing the pressure before adding each ingredient. Typically you’ll start by cooking your meat for half of the total cooking time before adding in heartier ingredients like potatoes, and then toss in the rest of your vegetables when you are 2/3 of the way through the total cooking time.

With the help of these and more awesome pressure cooker recipes, your holiday cooking will be more stress-free than ever before. 

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