I bought my pressure cooker in 2001 shortly after I started grad school. It’s a 7 liter Kuhn Rikon Duromatic exactly like the one in the link, so I am pleased to note that it has not been necessary to upgrade the design for the past 8 years. Pressure cookers can be expensive ($200+) and paying so much money when I had just adopted an extreme savings program was emotionally painful. Yet while it wasn’t cheap it definitely was frugal. Over the years, I have had the same pressure cooker for 8 years now, the savings in gas/electricity and time due to the reduced cooking times — usually things cook 2-3 times faster, meaning 2-3 less fuel — not to mention the convenience as things rarely boil over the top (they may boil into the pressure valves though which is bad!), has certainly paid it off. If I lost it, I would get a new one right away. In fact I became so enamored with it that I bought pressure cookers for both my GF and mom. The physics behind pressure cookers is really so brilliant that everybody should own one. Cooking under normal pressure is simply wasteful and old-fashioned.
Pressure cookers work by increasing the boiling point of water (the higher the pressure, the higher the boiling point) and thus the temperature at which the food cooks (typically at the boiling point). This means that food cook faster under pressure. Sometimes a lot faster. This makes steaming a viable option and often you will steam your food rather than cook it. This preserves more of the taste inside the food.
In terms of time, potatoes and vegetables only take a couple of minutes, meat takes less than 15 minutes. If you have a big stew, you can precook in the pressure cooker. It will make the meat fall off the bones.
The Duromatic has a “clever” pressure release, where you do not have to hold down the valve manually to release steam. Steam should be released gradually to avoid having your potatoes puff up like a deep ocean fish (or a Hollywood diver) that emerges too quickly. If you don’t care about that (I don’t since I mainly cook rice and beans), then there’s no need to pay $10 for that “feature”.
The pressure release also has two levels of pressure indicated. Let’s call them level 1 and 2. It comes with a long list of various ingredients and whether they should be cooked on level 1 or 2. I ignore that now having found what works for me.
For instance, when I cook rice, use a cup to dump in 2 parts rice to 3 parts water. I then lock the lid and fire up the burner until level 2 is reached at which point I turn the burner off. After the pressure has dropped completely, the rice is cooked. This method never burns the rice. Burning generally happens when you run out of ready moisture, but since all the moisture is contained in the pressure cooker food very rarely burn to the bottom Cooking rice takes about 10 minutes this way with heat being on only during the initial phase (maybe 5 minutes). For beans, I cover the presoaked beans liberally with water (less water means foam, foam is bad!) and heat to level 2. Then I turn the heat off. If you are really frugal with your heat, you can put the pressure cooker in your sleeping bag at this point. Once the pressure drops to level 1 I heat again, and so on for about 20 minutes. This leaves the beans very well done (the way I like them).
After 8 years, the rubber on the emergency release valve (the UL valve) has become a bit worn so building pressure is harder. I have found that taking off the lid, wiping it off around the valve so that the hot water softens it, and then putting the lid back on works. Once it stops working, Kuhn Rikon sell replacements, so I’ll get one of those. Surprisingly, the rubber seal/gasket is still working, even after 8 years.
In terms of the size to get, keep in mind that the top third volume is reserved for steam. In other words, the cooker can only be filled the the 2/3 mark. That is why I did not get one of the smaller ones. In particular, the pressure cooking deep pans (for risotto) make no sense to me. I might consider a 5L/quart cooker, but I would find a 3L impractical except maybe for camping.
Obviously, it also works as a regular very thick bottomed stainless steel pot and often I start by sauteing onions in the cooker before adding the rice on top of it and adding pressure. This saves doing dishes as well as an extra pot.
What is your favorite kitchen tool or appliance?