Anyone who's spent too many hours in the kitchen on a hot summer day knows why pressure cookers were invented. Not only do they do their thing in far less time than conventional stovetops―perfect for last-minute changes of plans―they also don't heat up the place. Pressure cookers can make the tough tender and, by allowing several items to be cooked together, meld disparate flavors. Especially good with grains, dried beans, and meats, pressure also brings out the best in less predictable fare such as risotto, fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and green beans. Fruits find a welcome home in pressure cookers, as do fish such as salmon and tuna.
No wonder the instrument you may remember as some kind of spatter-prone demon from the back of your mother's range is making a comeback. Led by European redesigning in the 1980s, a second generation of pressure cookers beckons anyone who wants to add an extra measure of speed to meal-making. The old jiggle-top model is still available, but it's been spiffed up, declunkified, and rid of annoying old habits like blowing its top, and your meal, all over the ceiling. Even more advanced are the spring-release-valve models; though more expensive, they are quieter and quicker to decompress. Both are safe, though, and each cooks just the same inside.
And that―what actually happens in the pot―accounts for the renewed interest in the appliance. Superheated steam seals in nutrients, requires very little fat, and can put a meal on the table in a half hour. That's chili in a little more than 30 minutes, no-stir risotto in a little less.
It's not rocket science. Add your ingredients, plus at least a half-cup of whatever liquid the recipe calls for. Lock the lid; bring your cooker to high pressure on the stove. Start the timer, and reduce the heat to the lowest setting required. When the timer goes off, reduce the pressure. Quick-release action on the spring-valve models lets you do so at the stove; most jiggle tops must be carried to the sink so cool tap water can bring the pressure down. Either method requires only a couple of minutes and stops the cooking process at once. Easiest of all is just letting the cooker sit for about 10 minutes. The pressure will drop while you go about the rest of your meal preparations, and, in general, get on with your life.