On February 19, a pressure cooker went on sale. I had been hearing about how one can quickly cook food in the pressure cooker while saving in addition to time, energy, water, vitamins, and flavor. It came in a variety of sizes, so I bought the 8qt model. Alice, who had had a bad prior experience with a pressure cooker that exploded in her grandmother’s house and stuck a day’s worth of lentils to the ceiling, was so alarmed when I opened the package that I agreed to calm her nerves I would do something I would never do on my own: I would read the manual.
The manual was exquisitely boring, so I quickly skimmed the table of contents until I found the “how to prevent your pressure cooker from exploding” section. Modern pressure cookers, it turns out, provide myriad safety features to prevent just this situation. My cooker has a gauge on it with two lines.
“If it gets to the second line, it explodes?” Asks Alice.
“No, that just means it’s cooking at high pressure that might be too harsh for more delicate foods. But you do want to avoid getting past the second line,” I answer.
“That’s when it explodes.”
“No, that’s when it automatically releases steam to keep it at a safe pressure. If it releases too much steam, there won’t be enough water and your food might burn.”
Later that day, we heard some steam escaping from the pressure cooker. Alice retreated to a small homemade bunker she’d crafted impressively quickly after first learning of my purchase while I casually ambled over and pushed the button to quickly let off excess pressure and then turned down the heat. I lifted my red and white flags and executed the “all clear” maneuver so Alice would know she could safely leave her bunker. After spending hours practicing the maneuver at her insistence, I had to admit it was nice to have an opportunity actually use it in practice.
The next day when my pressure cooker was finished cooking, I took it off the stove and pushed the button to release the trapped steam. This is the normal technique to make sure it doesn’t explode when you’re trying to open it. The button to release the steam and the button to open it are the same button, and you cannot open it if the pressure is still too high. The released steam jets out in force from both sides of a little nozzle on top of the handle, making the pressure cooker look briefly like the sort of angry rodeo bull that would tend to be taunted by a wisecracking anthropomorphic rabbit. I find this enormously entertaining, but Alice retreats into her bunker.
Mostly what my pressure cooker has done for me is allow me to quickly cook large quantities of beans, tofu, and vegetables that easily last throughout the week. The food does seem to be more flavorful, and it’s certainly quicker to cook. It’s especially entertaining how a process that used to involve chaotic bubbling and stirring and the cleaning up of huge messes now involves only a steel container. The immense heat and energy trapped inside is represented only by a tiny indicator with two lines.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I forgot to signal to Alice that it’s safe to leave her bunker.