Pick of the Week: Dinner with Atmosphere

In our household, I’m responsible for the food. Breakfasts and lunches are easy, as none of us mind eating the same simple things for those meals day after day (oatmeal in the morning, granola bars at noon for me), but dinner is a perpetual challenge. That’s our family meal together. It needs to vary from night to night, and be tasty, nutritious, and filling. But I really don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen every day, so with the exception of an occasional gourmet hobby project on the weekend, these high-quality dinners also need to be quick.

For example: a nice bacon and edamame risotto, 25 minutes; arroz con pollo, 35 minutes; chicken curry, 25 minutes. Those times are measured from walking into the kitchen to putting the plates on the table, and the food doesn’t taste like a shortcut at all. The key to all this is a decades-old appliance that’s still underappreciated: the pressure cooker.

Newer stand-alone electric “instant pots” have finally started to catch on, but I prefer the older style that sits on a stove burner, as it can also double as a regular cooking pot. A Fissler is my regular cooker, and I also have a big All American in the basement for when I need more capacity.

The other essential tool for quick cookery is a good book about how to use these wonderful devices. Lorna Sass’s “Pressure Perfect” is the one to get. Sass doesn’t just provide recipes, she explains their underlying principles, and also offers tweaks and variations on each of them.

While many foods work well in it, the pressure cooker’s ability to turn bean preparation into a quick weeknight task makes it essential for anyone trying to shift toward more plant-based proteins. Sass has that covered too. Zealous vegans (is there any other kind?) may complain that her book is still too animal product-heavy, but attentive readers can adapt the techniques to make plenty of tasty vegetarian and near-vegetarian meals. In addition, Sass’s charts of cooking times for everything from pork shoulder to rice constitute a flexible toolkit for developing your own recipes. It’s like “Joy of Cooking” at 2 ata.

If you’ve heard that pressure cookers are finicky or dangerous, you’ve been misinformed. The new “instant pots” handle everything automatically, but even the older stovetop cookers are simple to use, and all of them have safety features to prevent anything too awful from happening. If anything, they’re safer than slow cookers left unattended all day.

Speaking of slow cookers, most recipes for them are easy to convert for pressure cooking, once you understand the principles. My favorite chicken soup, for example, started as a slow cooker recipe that took eight or nine hours from start to finish. Now I make it in 40 minutes flat and it tastes the same. If I forgot to thaw the chicken, it’s 42 minutes.

So the next time you’re feeling pressured to get a meal on the table, try pressing back.