When I ask people why they don’t cook their own meals, the first reason they usually give is not having enough time to cook. However, I would argue that dining out can take just as much time, if not more when you factor in travel time. But I have do use some methods and techniques that greatly increase efficiency and productivity in my kitchen. And with this one kitchen appliance, I can whip up a quick, delicious, and healthy meal and not be reaching for junk food when I’m hungry. Without any pre-preparation, I can also cook an entire multi-course meal for 20 guests in less than two hours time. How is this possible?
I use a pressure cooker. It is my all-time favorite kitchen appliance. I also love my rice cooker, which I often will use simultaneously. Together they are my kitchen time-savers, and because the vast majority of my meals are home-prepared, they are also my money-savers and I would even say my health- or life-savers.
Benefits of a Pressure Cooker.
Saves Time: Generally, cooking will take less than half the time as compared to conventional stovetop cooking. You can also cook frozen meats, which saves you time on defrosting. Every Sunday, I will spend 3-4 hours making most of the meals for the coming week. With a pressure cooker, I can make 5-6 dishes back to back, just giving the pot a quick rinse between each dish.
Saves Energy: Of course, when things cook faster, you use less energy. Less energy equals less money spent on utilities.
Set & Forget: Once everything goes into the pot, you just turn it on and walk away. So although 3-4 hours seems like a big time commitment, I do spend it multitasking, doing anything from listening to an audiobook, to sorting through emails, even exercising, or if you are making a lot of food, you can prep the next dish.
Tenderizes Meat: It’s great for meat dishes because it can cook a frozen whole chicken (as shown below)
in just over 20 minutes making it so tender, that the meat falls off the bone. Normally, this would take a lot of time and a lot of energy if using an oven or a stovetop.
Preserves Nutrients: Certain foods, when cooked, have vitamins and other nutrients that are oxygen and light sensitive. These nutrients are preserved when cooking in a pressure cooker. In addition, keeping any remaining broth means that you are also saving the water-soluble vitamins.
Reduction in AGE products: Because the temperature never goes above 120 degrees, advanced glycosylation end (or AGE) products do not form. These are what researchers believe are highly correlated with cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. These are found in high numbers on charred and grilled meats. It is recommended to limit consumption of such overcooked meats.
Easy to Use: The only real danger once the pressure cooker is turned on, is the hot surface and the pressure release valve where the steam comes out. Other than those two things, they’re quite easy to operate and to use, so even a novice cook or a teenager can help out and do the cooking for the family.
The vast majority of recipes can be modified to be prepared in a pressure cooker, including some of Singapore’s signature foods, such as curry chicken, rendang, and briyani. I’ve also cooked sambal eggplant, bitter gourd, chili fish, barbeque ribs, salmon, and mashed potatoes in my pressure cooker. Rice porridge can be made in less than 20 minutes (it would usually take hours on a stovetop). And for those who want a nutritious drink packed full of minerals and collagen, bone broths (or vegetable broths) can be made with ease.
I also use my rice cooker, but not for cooking rice. I use it to steam or boil vegetables in bulk, especially roots (e.g., daikon, carrots, beets), nightshades (e.g. pumpkin, sweet potato), and cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage). During the same 3-4 hours, I will usually make 4 vegetable dishes. Once the vegetables are boiled or steamed, they can be eaten plain, dipped in sauce, or used as ingredients for a quick stir fry. The rice cooker is a lot slower than the pressure cooker, but it allows me to open it and check in on its contents, which is very helpful in preparing vegetables and not overcooking them.
The REAL benefits: By using one afternoon a week to prepare food, my family gets home-cooked meals that are healthier and less expensive than dining out. If I am ever hungry, there will always be something in the refrigerator to eat, so I won’t be reaching for junk food. I know giving up an afternoon will be difficult, but it all depends on mindset and perspective. If you see it as time well spent, and time you generously and graciously give by providing a precious service to your family (that no money can buy), then isn’t it worth it? Hippocrates said that your food is your medicine, but in our modern world, food can also be your poison. One of my favorite authors, Dr. Daniel Amen once wrote,
“If you had a million dollar race horse, would you feed it junk food?… You are worth so much more than that race horse.”
With a little help from handy kitchen appliances and some planning (and maybe some delegating), making home-cooked meals doesn’t have to be a huge sacrifice in time or deprivation in dietary choices.