We've been rolling out posts on pressure cooking these past two weeks, looking at what a pressure does and how it cooks. Today let's take a minute to compare pressure cookers with an appliance a lot of us are more familiar with: the slow cooker. Is there a need for both in the kitchen? What if you only had to choose one? Here are some situations where a pressure cooker might actually beat out the slow cooker.
I've been spending a lot of time with my pressure cooker, so these points are partly from my own experience, but also from our readers'. A few years ago we had a reader question about slow cookers and pressure cookers, and I'm drawing from some of the comments our readers shared.
1. If you want meals without a lot of planning ahead.
Here's the biggest difference between a slow cooker and a pressure cooker: one is slow, and one is fast. With a pressure cooker, you can be unprepared until 6:00pm, when you come home with a nice cut of beef for braised stew, and still eat delicious tender meat at 7:00pm. With a slow cooker, no such luck.
So this is really a question of cooking style more than anything; do you like to set everything up before you go to work? Or would you rather not deal with cooking until you come home? WannaBeBeachBum says, "It's been a godsend when I need to get dinner on the table quickly, and the meal I want is more of a long cooking one. So basically when I'm disorganized, which is often."
2. If you're vegetarian or if you eat a lot of beans.
My experience has been that the pressure cooker deals with vegetables much better than the slow cooker, which tends to make them mushy. Also, I quit cooking beans in the slow cooker a long time ago because I found they fell apart and didn't taste as good as when I made them in the oven. The pressure cooker, on the other hand — wow. It cooks beans so fast, and without splitting them.
the polish chick says, for instance, "It really does depend on what you eat. we eat a tonne of beans, being mostly (80%) vegetarian, although my husband has made his amazing chicken stock in the pressure cooker and it was stellar. In fact, when we first got it and started to read about all the things we could [make] with it, we started to think that pretty soon we'd get rid of everything BUT the pressure cooker."
3. If you are tight on space in the kitchen.
A stovetop pressure cooker is also just a really big pot that can be used for many other things. A slow cooker insert, on the other hand, usually shouldn't be used for anything other than slow cooking. Also, while browning of ingredients is important for flavor in many slow cooker and pressure cooker recipes, a pressure cooker lets you brown and sauté right in the pressure cooker itself.
canada248 says, "The pressure cooker, as others have pointed out, doesn't have to just be a pressure cooker - don't tamp down the lid and it serves as a really big pot."
4. If you want to can a wide range of foods.
Some (but not all) pressure cookers are also pressure canners, which bring the temperature up higher so you can preserve lower-acid foods like soups. This is not something you could ever do in a slow cooker or regular water bath canning process. PreserveNation says, "If you think you might be interested in canning soups, meats or vegetables, then a pressure canner would be the better investment."
5. If you live at high altitude.
Cooking at high altitude can be tricky, since the boiling temperature of water goes down the higher up you go. A pressure cooker can be a big help. As lazy_lurker says, "I live at high altitude (Utah), and without the pressure cooker, beans (even lentils) will never get cooked."
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Of course, many of us don't have to choose at all, having plenty of space for both a pressure cooker and a slow cooker. But I have been increasingly less enamored of my slow cooker these days. For safety reasons, modern slow cookers cook at higher temperatures, and I often find a stew or curry at a rolling boil in my slow cooker, even set on LOW.
This isn't what I want from low, slow, gentle cooking, and since I work from home I usually opt to do braises or stews on very low heat in the oven. I find that the all-around gentle, moist heat gives a really good result. But of course it's not practical for everyone, and it's certainly not conserving energy. A pressure cooker is a much more efficient option for me, and so far I have been loving the results. I'm seriously thinking about ditching my slow cooker entirely and giving its space to the pressure cooker.
What about you? Have you made a choice between the two? Or do you happily use both?
(Image: Dana Velden)