Healthy eating: For quick meals at high altitude, buy a pressure cooker
Have you ever noticed that everything seems to take longer to cook in the mountains? Pasta, beans, rice, braised meats and even boiled eggs need extra time at our elevation. If you want to speed up your meal preparation, pressure cookers can be a blessing for those of us who cook at high altitude.
Many people dismiss pressure cooking as “old-school” or just plain scary. So it’s time to demystify the pressure cooker, which is basically a cooking pot with a tight lid. When the pressure cooker lid is sealed, the small amount of water inside turns to steam. In a pressure cooker, the steam can’t escape, which increases the pressure inside. Internal temperatures can reach 250 degrees, effectively speed-cooking your food. In general, your cooking time in a pressure cooker will be at least one-third to one-half of traditional cooking times.
Today’s pressure cookers are versatile. For your vegetables, the pressure cooker allows you to preserve more nutrients than steaming or boiling because you’re cooking faster and using less water. Chicken and less expensive cuts of meat become tender with intense flavor because volatile flavor molecules in the moist heat can’t escape during pressure cooking. Next time you want beans but forgot to soak them first, the pressure cooker can save you hours of cooking time.
If you decide to give pressure cooking a try, instead of digging out your grandmother’s old pressure cooker, consider upgrading to a newer pressure cooker with safety features. Today’s pressure cookers have multiple safety features that allow the pressure to release if it gets too high. A new pressure cooker can be purchased for as little as $50, so don’t be tempted to buy that old garage sale treasure of unknown origin.
When you go shopping for your new pressure cooker, you will have two choices: an electric or stovetop version. Electric cookers are usually larger and take more time to heat up and cool down. For that reason, I recommend the stove-top version. It is more versatile, takes up less space and has fewer parts to break. A quality stovetop pressure cooker should last you a lifetime.
My next suggestion is that you actually read the instructions that come with your pressure cooker. That little manual is a treasure-trove of information on how to operate your appliance. Each cooker has a slightly different recommendation for filling the pot, sealing the lid, bringing it up to pressure and cooling it down. Once you are comfortable with your pressure cooker, you can start making some amazing meals.
It’s time to rediscover pressure cooking as a boon for mountain cooks. Challenge yourself to adapt your old, time-consuming recipes to pressure cooking or try new recipes that come with your new cooker. Most manufacturers recommend you increase the cooking time if you are cooking at higher elevations, so check the manual or website for any adjustments in cooking time for our altitude.
Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. For questions, call 970-879-0825 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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