A few months ago, I bought a pressure cooker. I didn’t think it was a big deal, and I hadn’t planned on blogging about it. I just thought that I would eat legumes more often if cooking them took minutes instead of hours. (I don’t eat canned beans because all food cans are lined with plastic, which can leach either BPA or some other mystery alternative that could be even worse. )
Anyway, I’ve been pressure cooking up a storm every weekend… making big pots of beans to eat during the week or to store in the freezer for later. And I’ve also used the pressure cooker for other things like potatoes and even kale.
I assumed I was the last one to the party… that everyone else in the world already knew that pressure cookers are magic. That was until I received an email from a reader named Deborah, who seemed to have read my mind!
I love your blog. My recent discovery is cooking beans in a PRESSURE COOKER. Yes, really. Pressure cookers are now made much safer than in my grandmother’s time. If I soak them overnight most beans cook in 15-30 minutes. And the pressure cooker uses less energy because it cooks on a low flame.
I am much more likely to cook beans now that I can make a batch while I am preparing the rest of dinner.
And cooked beans freeze well. Just put a batch in a jar (not a plastic bag) and freeze them for another meal.
A pressure cooker is expensive, but well worth the cost. In Switzerland the average home has three pressure cookers!
Please spread the word!
Yes, Deborah, me too! So this is me spreading the word!
Finding the Right Pressure Cooker
There are different kinds of pressure cookers. The most common type seem to be made of aluminum. I knew I didn’t want to cook in aluminum, so I started searching Craigslist for a stainless steel model.
Sadly, after two months of searching, I couldn’t find a second-hand pressure cooker that wasn’t made from aluminum. So I went ahead and sprang for a brand new one with the rationale that I would use it for many, many years. The model I chose is a Kuhn Rikon Duromatic 8-1. The pot is made in Switzerland and is rated highly on all the sites I checked. And fortunately, it comes packaged in cardboard rather than plastic or Styrofoam.
There are also electric pressure cookers, but I opted for simplicity. I don’t need another gadget taking up space on my counter. And this pot can be used for other purposes if I put a regular lid on it from one of my other pots.
The Duromatic comes with detailed instructions for use as well as an excellent cooking guide with recipes. To learn to cook beans in it, I consulted the guide as well as Katie Kimball’s post “Pressure Cooking Dry Beans/Legumes.” Katie wrote the definitive guide to cooking beans, so I knew she wouldn’t steer me wrong.
Step one (optional): Soak beans overnight, or at least for a few hours. With a pressure cooker, you don’t actually have to soak them at all, but if you can remember to do it ahead of time, they will take less time to cook and will be more digestible and nutritious.
Step two: Dump out the soaking water and then pick out any weirdo beans or things that look like they aren’t beans at all. Put beans in pressure cooker and cover with the recommended amount of water, per instructions, along with extras of your choice.
I added celery, garlic, bay leaves, and a strip of kombu. Kombu is a kind of seaweed that adds umami and, according to Emily Ho of theKitchn, “the amino acids in kombu help soften beans and make them more digestible.” Fortunately, I can buy dried kombu and other kinds of seaweed without plastic from the bulk bins at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. (My friend Deb Baida was kind enough to snap this photo for me since I didn’t think to do it when I was at Rainbow. Ironically, they were sold out the day she took the pic.)
Step three: Fasten on the lid, turn on your stove burner, and bring the pot to high pressure. The Duromatic has a little thing-a-majig in the middle of the lid that goes up as the pressure builds. The first red line is low. The second red line is high. The instruction guide let’s you know whether to cook at high or low pressure depending on what food is in the pot. When the desired pressure is reached, you turn down the heat and let it cook for the specified amount of time.
Okay, so I’ll admit this part was scary the first couple of times. The pot doesn’t have a whistle to alert you; you do have to watch for the red lines. I was afraid I wouldn’t turn down the heat in time and the lid would blow off. But the Duromatic has five different safety features to release pressure if you forget. You would have to forget for a long period of time, and if you did, you’d really have to worry about burning your house down… just like you would with a regular pot.
Step four: After cooking for the specified time, take the beans off the stove and let the pot release its pressure slowly. There are ways to hurry the process, but with beans, you want to let the pressure go down naturally to let the beans finish cooking and avoid spitting. When the little thingie has gone all the way back down, the pressure is at zero and you can remove the lid. (Before then, the lid won’t come off.)
Step five: Remove the bay leaves. And you can either remove the kombu or stir it in with the beans.
Then, drain your beans and try to save the cooking liquid to make broth.
Spoon your beans into glass jars and store in the refrigerator to be eaten soon or in the freezer for later.
Like I said, it just takes a little work on the weekends, and you can have beans that are almost as convenient as canned whenever you want. The one thing that takes slightly more time is defrosting them. You don’t want to put a frozen jar in hot water, but room temperature water is fine. Beans thaw out pretty quickly that way, as long as they were drained well before going in the jar. Wetter beans and mashed beans will take longer.
The main advantage to cooking beans in a pressure cooker rather than in a regular pot is that you not only save time but also energy. We have a gas stove in our apartment, so every time we turn on the burner, in addition to consuming fossil fuel, we are creating indoor air pollution. The less time doing that, the better.