Saturday, April 28, 2012

UTENSILS - The Pressure Cooker (Panela de Pressão)

Although pressure cookers - pans with airtight lids that allow steam pressure to build up inside the pan and consequently allow cooking at temperatures higher than the normal boiling point - we invented back in the 19th Century and had their heyday in the decades following the Second World War, in most parts of North America and Europe they have fallen by the wayside. Children born in the 1970s and 1980s are now reaching adulthood without ever having seen a pressure cooker. In modern American kitchens, pressure cookers are as scarce as the proverbial hens' teeth.

In Brazilian kitchens, however, pressure cookers, once they became popular never disappeared. A pressure cooker (called panela de pressão in Portuguese) can be found in most Brazilian kitchen cupboards or pantries and Brazilian home cooks often use a pressure cooker on an almost-daily basis. Brazilian cooks use pressure cookers to make the beans without which a Brazilian meat isn't complete. They also use them to make meat and poultry stews, relying on the pan's high temperature to tenderize tough meats. And they use them to cook the salted, dried meats, like carne de sol and charque, which are an integral part of Brazilian cuisine.

The ability to tendersize tough cuts of meat is just one of the virtues of the pressure cooker that make it a valuable part of a Brazilian cook's batterie de cuisine. Because it generates such high temperatures, pressure cookers allow for a much shorter cooking time for things like dried beans, which can take hours when cooked in a normal pan. This shorter cooking time benefits Brazilian cooks in two ways - first, because it allows them to do the daily cooking faster, saving time for other chores, and second, because the shorter cooking time means significantly less energy is required, whether the cook is using a wood stove, a gas stove or an electric one. This last reason is probably the most important reason why the pressure cooker has stayed popular in Brazil, as many houses rely on their own resources of wood or on bottled butane gas for cooking purposes. Only in the large cities, and then only in the better neighborhoods, can centralized gas be found. When fuel is limited, and for many Brazilians, expensive, a pressure cooker makes a lot of sense.

Brazilian cookbooks are full of recipes that require pressue cookers. To date, Flavors of Brazil hasn't published any, as most readers of this blog aren't likely to have one at home. But as we here at Flavors of Brazil have taken the plunge and bought a pressure cooker, we'll publish such recipes from time to time in the future. Pressure cookers are still available in North America and Europe and they do make good economic sense, as well as providing an excellent method of cooking. Newer models have many safety features, too, which eliminates some people's worries about cooking with potentially explosive steam. Who knows, in this world of increasing energy costs, maybe the pressure cooker is due for a comeback.


2 comments:

  1. How lovely! Your tips were so helpful. thanks for sharing this. The next time can you give us some tips of using pressure cooker

    ReplyDelete