Adventures in Pressure Cooking Part I

I’m a confident cook. I enjoy cooking and like to think I’m reasonably good at it. Now I’m trying something new and feel like a novice again. It’s not the first time I’ve learned new cooking techniques. When I was sixteen, I became a vegetarian, and for most of my twenties I only knew how to cook vegetarian food. Even when I moved to Nunavut and started eating meat again, I rarely ever cooked it myself. It may seem bizarre, but I learned to skin and butcher animals long before I became comfortable with cooking meat. Then I met Julian ten years ago, a carnivore par excellence and a very confident cook, and he introduced me to a whole world of cooking with meat.

Among the jumble of things on board Carina when we bought her was a pressure cooker. Both summers we’ve lived aboard I’ve used it as an ordinary saucepan, which is a waste of a fantastic piece of culinary equipment. The truth is, I had no idea how to use it, and was a little scared. We’ve all heard the stories of exploding pressure cookers. But for the past six months or so I’ve been mulling over learning to use it properly.

Our mighty pressure cooker.

Our mighty pressure cooker.

For the live aboard cruiser, for the frugal, for the environmentally-minded, the pressure cooker is a must. It cooks food far more quickly than conventional cooking methods, using minimal water and minimal energy. If you live on a boat where conserving water and cooking gas are top priorties, and where space to cook is at a premium, then it makes sense to use one.

Carina's small galley requires an imaginative approach to cooking!

Carina’s tiny galley calls for imaginative approaches to cooking!

So I started to do some research. I tried watching YouTube videos, but that wasn’t for me. My Luddite tendencies drew me to books. A few months ago Sheila Dillon devoted an episode of The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4 to pressure cooking, interviewing Catherine Phipps, author of The Pressure Cooker Cookbook. While listening to Catherine, I ordered the book online. At the same time, my mother-in-law sent me another pressure cooker cookbook. Between the two, I have over 200 recipes to try out! Phipps book is wonderfully easy to follow and contains some ingenious recipes.

imagesAnd so to my plan. A few weeks ago I asked Julian to bring the pressure cooker back to the house when he next paid a visit to Carina. I scrubbed it up, and put it sitting on the worktop. And there it sat…and sat…and sat. I looked at it last week and realised this couldn’t go on. The pressure cooker and I would have to develop a relationship.

On Sunday I had my first simple but successful attempt at using it. I steamed potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower for the girls and I, using less than two centimeters of water in the bottom of the pan. Once the cooker had reached the required pressure, I transferred it to a cooler ring on the hob and the potatoes cooked in seven minutes. SEVEN minutes. Wow. What a save on water, energy and time.

The possibilities for beans, pasta, casseroles and goodness knows what else are limitless. I plan to cook a couple of meals with the pressure cooker each weekend, so that by the time we move aboard Carina, I’ll have gained confidence and competence, built up a repertoire of family favourites, and minimise our use of water and gas.

Watch this space….


9 thoughts on “Adventures in Pressure Cooking Part I

  1. I have a pressure cooker still in the box…I got it a few years ago and have never even opened it. You have inspired me to give it a try. Thanks for the motivation.

    • Hi Martha,
      There’s something very 1970s about pressure cookers. But I’ve discovered that they are hugely popular in other parts of the world. In Central and South America they’re a feature of every kitchen, where, in hot humid weather, you can cook hot food without overheating your kitchen by cooking in the oven or having mulitple cooker rings on the go. And it seems that increasingly professional chefs are using them to make stocks. Being completely sealed, they give stocks a greater intensity of flavour. We make stock most weeks from our chicken bones, as a base for soup – I might make this week’s stock in the pressure cooker.

  2. Hi – I’m very happy that The Food Programme inspired you to try out your pressure cooker at long last. When I was researching my book, I came across loads of sailing sites which talked about pressure cooking and how far you can go with it, even using it – dry – to bake bread, which I haven’t tried yet, although I have steamed Boston Brown Bread in it. They definitely helped me be a bit more inventive anyway!

    I hope your experiments continue successfully. Find me on Twitter if anything goes wrong….


    • Hi Catherine,
      Sailing blogs and websites (written by women) generally devote some space to provisioning and cooking. And I can see why. There are a lot of overlapping considerations when setting sail on a long voyage – you have to weigh up lack of space, limited fresh water, limited fuel, keeping food fresh, preparing and cooking food in heavy seas and bad weather. It’s no wonder that all practical sailing exams have a ‘provisioning and cooking’ component. A well-fed crew is a happy crew. Like a lot of other sailors we keep a large stock of dried beans and lentils, as well as pasta and rice. So long as they’re kept dry and airtight they’ll last forever. And obviously, a pressure cooker is ideal for all those foods, which otherwise would require a lot of water and fuel to prepare.

      I’m looking forward to getting to know my pressure cooker better. We’re huge fans of curry in my house and Julian makes a mean naan. I think I might try your dahl recipe tomorrow.

  3. It’s wonderful that you started using your pressure cooker.
    I am the author of a pressure cooking cookbook The New Fast Food.
    A number of my students who have boats bought pressure cookers and love them.
    They work great on land and solve some of the issues encountered when boating such as lack of space in the kitchen, less fuel, uses less water and the pot is sealed which can be so important. Best of all the food tastes amazing.
    If I had a dollar for every person who told me that they are afraid of their pressure cooker, I probably would not have to work anymore.
    Congratulations on practicing before you need to.

  4. My mum often used her pressure cooker in the summer, so that she could still make a hot meal (the evenings were quite cool on the farm, despite the very hot days) but without heating up the kitchen too much.

    I toyed with the idea of a pressure cooker and never got around to buying one. Then a couple of years back, my sister bought me a Dreampot (see here: ) and I love it! Also uses very little energy, although probably a bit more water than the pressure cooker, and I love the slow-cooker feel to the food.

    Yay for trying out new cooking methods, right? Especially those that save us money and resources 🙂

  5. Pingback: Julian’s Golden Chicken Rules | Carina Of Devon

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