A pressure cooker is less a cooking tool than an instrument of time travel, a kitchen Tardis that seems to mock the laws of physics. It collapses hours into minutes, minutes into seconds.
Journeys that should take eternities are completed in a trice; contorted chunks of meat unravel voluptuously at fast-forward speed; unforgiving pulses subside while you have a glass of wine; raw bones yield up their virtues with absurd alacrity.
With a pressure cooker, the magical power of time in cookery, highlighted by Jenny Linford in her book The Missing Ingredient, is harnessed and cowed into submission.
I’m a relatively recent convert. For years, a pressure cooker sounded to me like a fiddly, antiquated contraption. Then, one day, the wine writer Francis Percival and his wife Bronwen, chief cheese buyer for Neal’s Yard Dairy, invited me to lunch.
Francis produced a beef cheek stew of lip-smacking beauty — the meat ravishingly tender, the wine-dark gravy creamy with collagen. He said he’d cooked it in half an hour! It seemed unbelievable.
After grilling Francis for the details, I ordered the pressure cooker he’d used and recommended: a six-litre Kuhn Rikon Duromatic Inox with a handle on either side. I’m not exaggerating when I say it changed my cooking life.
At first I was nervous, dimly recollecting stories of kitchen disasters involving pressure cooker explosions. But I bought Catherine Phipps’s reassuring The Pressure Cooker Cookbook, followed a few of her recipes to learn the ropes and soon found I was using my pressure cooker intuitively for both Chinese and other cooking.
There’s no need any more to soak beans overnight for a soup or stew. From-scratch hummus is a same-day affair. The toughest (and most delicious) cuts of meat are ready to eat in 30 minutes. I can make a perfect chicken stock in half an hour.
My pressure cooker has also transformed my ability to cook the steamed dishes traditionally served at Chinese feasts: instead of having to watch over them for two hours or more, topping up regularly with the kettle to make sure the wok doesn’t boil dry, I simply whack them in my pressure cooker and steam them for half an hour.
Microwaves concertina time in their own way, their jiggling of molecules heating a dish more rapidly than a hob or oven, but they do not improve flavour or texture. With a pressure cooker, the food is even better.
Stocks and stews keep themselves to themselves, hugger-mugger, losing virtually nothing to evaporation: when you unlock the lid, a miraculous cloud of aromas greets you. Is it fast food or slow food? Who cares? The pressure cooker collapses that distinction too.
I’m not a fan of kitchen gadgets — I didn’t even have a dishwasher until a few years ago — but my pressure cooker, made in Switzerland, feels like a classic piece of kit and a kitchen essential.
It’s sturdy as an ox, sleek as a racing car and admirably simple. Without the clutter of electronic controls, there are fewer parts to break or malfunction. The silicon gusset and even, in extremis, the handles, are replaceable. Safety valves make an explosion vanishingly unlikely.
Already, it feels like an old friend, a companion for my trusty wok and cleaver. I’ll probably use it till the day I die.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s latest book “The Food of Sichuan” is published by Bloomsbury
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