In the 17th century a French physicist invented the first pressure cooker, based on the principle that steam can reach a temperature higher than that of boiling water and thus can be used to cook foods more quickly. That fact - and many others - makes this cooking method perfect for boats.
Why Use a Pressure Cooker on a Sailboat?
For many cruisers, a pressure cooker is the ideal way to cook a wide variety of dishes. It's so perfect for a sailboat's galley that you'd think it was invented just for sailors! Here are the key benefits for boaters:
- Because food is cooked more quickly (saving up to 70% of cooking time), less stove fuel is used - a great benefit for cruisers who must carry their propane, alcohol, or other fuel with them.
- Because cooking time is shorter, less heat is generated in the galley - a benefit for boats in warm climates.
- Less water or other cooking fluid is required - a benefit for boaters with smaller water tanks or who make less frequent stops to fill their tanks.
- Recipes for pressure cookers emphasize one-pot meals - a benefit on boats with single-or double-burner stoves.
- Certainly not least, because pressure cooking uses less water, fewer nutrients and less good tastes are lost in the cooking.
- Leftovers heated back up to pressure can be left sealed in the cooker and will remain sterile (as long as you're careful) and not require refrigeration - another benefit in the small galleys of boats.
How a Pressure Cooker Works
The cooker's lid seals tightly on the pot, and when the liquid inside reaches the boiling point (212 degrees F, or 100 degrees C.), steam is released. In a conventional pot, even with a tight lid, the steam begins to escape and the food within stays at about the boiling point. In a pressure cooker the steam is trapped inside and continues rising in temperature until the pressure reaches a preset level, at which point the temperature is usually around 250 degrees F. (or 121 degrees C.). At that point the safety valve begins to release the pressure so that the pot does not explode, also keeping the temperature inside constant at the maximum. The heat can then be reduced for the cooking time.
Pressure cookers now sold in the U.S. and most countries are safe to use because of the pressure safety valve and a feature that locks the lid in place until the pressure has been released, minimizing the risk of a steam burn. Nevertheless, it is important to handle a pressure cooker carefully to avoid damage to its seal, the safety valve, or the locking mechanism.
Remember that the food inside is hotter than food cooked in an open pot, so be careful when opening the lid and handling the pot and the food.
The locking mechanism, pressure release method, and specifics for cleaning the pot all vary somewhat among different models. Be sure to read the follow the manufacturer's instructions included with your cooker.
Implications for Boaters
- Timing is important, because food can easily overcook if you're not paying attention. Use your watch or a kitchen timer, and follow the recipe's instructions closely until you've become adept at estimating times for your own recipes.
- A stainless steel model is best for boating conditions, especially in salt water. Use sufficient oil when browning meats in the cooker before adding other ingredients and fluid, to prevent burning the bottom of the cooker. (Stainless steel is not a nonstick surface!)
- With most pressure cookers, you can pour cold water over the lid (with the cooker in the sink) to end cooking quickly and lower the pressure in order to open the pot. On a cruising boat with a salt water tap, there is no need to waste precious tank water doing this cold water rinse.
- After use, carefully hand wash the cooker, taking special care to ensure no food is trapped against the gasket seal of the lid. Let the gasket dry before replacing it.
- When storing the cooker, remember that cookware often bounces around inside cabinets on a boat. Wrap and pad the cooker carefully so that its mechanisms won't be damaged.
Now go get a good pressure cooking cookbook and put to sea! Once you've gained a little experience, you'll be able to easily adapt your favorite one-pot recipes for the pressure cooker by reducing the liquid and cooking time appropriately.