Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Contents under PRESSURE
By Betty Shimabukuro


Pressure-cooking skipped an entire generation In the '50s and '60s, the rattling, hissing pressure cooker went to work on many a stovetop every week, but then it went away.

The gadgets of the last quarter-century have been microwaves and crock pots, the yin and yang of cooking, giving us food either in a hurry or braised all day.

But the pressure cooker is back: slicker, safer, quieter and well-suited to today's tastes.

And to local tastes. Kelli Furushima, buyer for the Executive Chef, says the store's largest cookers -- 21-1/2 quarts -- are popular for laulau. "Serious bruddahs making major laulau."

The comeback is a three-way thing: A growing interest in wholesome, healthy cooking, a lack of time to do it right, plus improvements in the style and function of pressure cookers.

"I have made stew in half an hour and it

was absolutely fabulous," Furushima says.


Kathy Rueter, marketing manager at Compleat Kitchen, says interest has been building for about a year.

"It seems like the right time for something like this to be reborn."

In a way, pressure cookers have the yin-yang thing going for them: The savoriness of long-cooking, done quickly.

And it's not just cheap cuts of meat pulverized to edibility. Pressure cookers are ideal for vegetarian cooking because they make quick work of grains and beans.

We're talking risotto in 4 minutes, bean dishes (from dry beans) in 10 to 15, stock (from scratch) in 5 to 30. Not to forget the meats: Stews in 10 minutes, pot roast in an hour, oxtails in 70 minutes. Oh, and laulau in an hour or less.

Marc Villanueva, manager of the Compleat Kitchen in Kahala Mall, lives the pressure-cooker life. He uses his three times a week, for stews, rice, potatoes (ready for mashing in 5 minutes, and better flavored because they're not water-logged). Chicken can go in the pot frozen, he says.

"At first I though I'd use it once in awhile," Villanueva says, but between demands of his job and school he's found it indispensable.

He says he cooks with less salt and water, uses more fresh herbs, saves nutrients and moisture. "I get full flavor in the pressure cooker."

With so much to say in favor of pressure cookers, where were they for all these years?

A generation ago, pressure-cookers stretched tight budgets through home canning and the use of inexpensive ingredients. "In the '40s and '50s and early '60s, every bride got a pressure cooker," says Lorna Sass, author of three books on pressure-cooking.

Then came convenience foods. Pressure-cooker meals -- Sass calls them " '50s food" -- went out of vogue. "The impression made with the pressure cooker was overcooked food. It became more fashionable to have al dente dishes and crisp-cooked vegetables."

Sass says today's recipes for pressure-cooked food leave you with fork-tender dishes that don't have to be mushy. She also insists the decline in pressure-cooking was confined to this country.

Her mother rediscovered the pressure cooker in India in the 1980s. "She'd put the pressure cooker away like so many people did in the '60s and got carried away by frozen food and what have you. Then she went to India and saw the way people used them. ... We are one of the few countries that doesn't use themas a matter of course. My mom wasn't even sure she could buy one here, that's why she got one in India."

The top-of-the line second-generation pressure cookers now come from from Europe, Sass says. "That's where the technology has moved ahead, because people have been using them."

By new technology we're talking safety. Pressure-cookers are not automatic. They sit on the stove and pressure mounts as heat builds. Older models were accident-prone if the heat wasn't properly monitored.

"The little round pressure regulator -- the thing that went chugga-chugga -- that would blow off and whatever was inside would come spewing out, like the fountain of youth," Sass says. Scalding liquid; it wasn't pretty.

"There was such a fear factor," says Reuter at Compleat Kitchen. "I remember my mother sending everybody out of the house when she used hers."

Today's models have back-up safety devices to guard against human error. They're also quieter.

Sass has five pressure cookers and uses one almost every day. "I think the pressure cooker really provides that kind of long-cooking taste that we're longing for in this era of fast food and rushing around."

Pressure points

Bullet How it works: The cooker lid is locked and the pot set over high heat. Liquid inside boils and produces steam, which is trapped inside and builds pressure.

Bullet Then what? Once high pressure is reached you must lower the heat. The cooker makes loud hissing sounds if you forget.

Bullet What it does to food: Under pressure, fibers break down and flavors combine in one-third normal cooking time.

Buying guide

Bullet Stainless steel: Top of the line, made in Europe. Most common locally is Swiss-made Kuhn-Rikon Duromatic, available at Executive Chef, Compleat Kitchen and Bosch Kitchen Center in Aiea. Sizes range from 2 to 12 liters; prices from $164-$365.

Bullet Aluminum: Common brands are Presto and Mirro. Bosch carries both in 4- to 22-quart sizes; Sears carries 6-quart Presto. Prices are $30-$100.

Bullet Also: Liberty House carries Fagor, stainless steel with aluminum interior, $90-$100. Executive Chef has Wisconsin Aluminum foundry professional-quality, heavy aluminum in larger sizes, $165-$175.

Bullet Repair and parts: Call Bosch, 488-6142.

To learn more

Bullet Demonstration: Make stew and bean dip, 11 a.m. April 3, Compleat Kitchen, Kahala Mall. Call 737-5827.


William Morrow and Co.
Cookbook author Lorna Sass keeps five pressure
cookers in her New York kitchen and uses them
almost every day.

Risotto in 4 minutes:
Can you beat that?

Bullet The Pressured Cook
Bullet By Lorna Sass, William Morrow and Co., 1999, $19.95

Lorna Sass makes pressure cooking sound like a religion.

It will change your life, she says in the introduction to her latest cookbook, "The Pressured Cook."

It's her third cookbook on this technique. First came the general guide, "Cooking Under Pressure," then "Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure." "Pressured Cook" focuses on one-dish meals, which Sass says are a particular strength of the pressure cooker.

The book also lists utensils and ingredients that maximize pressure-cooking, and telephone numbers for manufacturers.

Here's a sampling of ways Sass keeps the faith:


'Barbecued' Chicken
with Beans and Corn

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups coarsely chopped onion
1 cup water
4 pounds skinned chicken parts, well-trimmed
3/4 cup prepared barbecue sauce
3 cups cooked black beans, or 1 31-ounce can, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons instant polenta or cornmeal
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn (rinse off ice)
1 tablespoon mustard (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in the cooker over medium-high heat. Cook onions until softened, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Stir in water, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Add a few pieces of chicken, top with sauce, add more chicken and sauce in layers.

Lock the lid in place; bring to high pressure. Reduce heat and cook 11 minutes. Quick-release pressure, remove lid.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and add beans, polenta and pepper. Cook at a gentle boil, 3 minutes. Add corn and cook 2 more minutes to thicken sauce. Add mustard and/or more barbecue sauce and salt and pepper to balance the taste. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional analysis per cup, with skinless chicken thighs, no mustard: 330 calories, 8 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol,340 mg sodium.*


Risotto with Green Peas

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1-1/2 cups chopped leeks or onions
1-1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, vermouth or sherry
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
10-ounce package frozen peas (rinse off ice)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat butter over medium-high heat. When it begins to foam, add leeks and cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in rice and coat grains with butter. Add wine and cook over high heat, stirring, until it evaporates, about 1 minute. Add broth and salt.

Lock lid; bring to high pressure. Reduce heat and cook 4 minutes. Quick release the pressure under cold water and remove lid.

Bring to boil again over medium-high heat, stirring until rice is tender but chewy and risotto is creamy and thick, 3-4 minutes. Stir in peas and cheese. Serves 6.

Approximate nutritional analysis per cup: 335 calories, 7.5 g total fat, 4 g. saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,300 mg sodium.*


Asian Beans, Barley
and Bok Choy

7 cups water
1 cup dried azuki beans, rinsed
1/2 cup pearl barley, rinsed
10-12 large dried shiitake caps, in small pieces
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 large carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
1 pound bok choy, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2-3 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar

Bring water to boil and add beans, barley, mushrooms, white part of the scallions and oil (controls foaming of the beans). Place carrots on top. Lock lid and bring to high pressure. Lower heat and cook 18 minutes. Quick-release pressure under cold water and remove lid. Remove carrots. If beans are still hard, recover (don't lock) and cook until done. Add 1/2 cup more water if necessary.

Stir in bok choy, ginger and soy. Cook, covered, over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add more water if necessary. Cut carrots into bite-sized pieces and stir in.

Just before serving, stir in green part of the scallions and vinegar. Adjust seasonings with soy sauce or salt if desired. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional analysis per per cup: 300 calories, 1.5 g total fat, 0.5 g. saturated fat, no cholesterol, 400 mg sodium.*

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