There are many ways to cook your food, and what works for one isn't always best for another dish. While some food items are best when fried, others offer seductively superior results when they're prepared in a pressure cooker. Picking the best cooking method requires you to understand what each cooking method entails, from equipment to time to preparation, so you can decide which is best for you and the meal you’re preparing.
What’s Pressure Cooking?
Pressure cookers use high heat and extreme steam pressure to cook foods fast -- even foods that traditionally take hours on the stove or in the oven. This type of preparation is considered a moist heat cooking method. The sealed pot can get to boiling temperatures of up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the high pressure and increased boiling temperatures, liquids are forced into the food faster, which tenderizes and cooks foods quicker. Pressure cookers also can caramelize and brown foods without the use of oil or a frying pan.
Pan-frying is often confused with the term “sauté,” but they’re two different cooking techniques. Pan-frying is a dry heat cooking method done at a medium to medium-high heat. Food is cooked in fat or oil and remains moist with a crisp, brown exterior when it’s done.
Equipment You’ll Need
The most popular pressure cookers today come in single units that are plugged in and used as a countertop appliance, though conventional stove top pressure cookers are still available and widely used. You won’t need any additional equipment to use the pressure cooker itself, but a single pressure cooker unit can be expensive compared with the equipment you’ll need to pan-fry. Cooking utensils and plates to put your food on after it’s cooked are about all that is required with a pressure cooker. To pan-fry, you will need a skillet with straight or sloped sides, tongs, a plate to put your food on and possibly paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
Time to Cook
A pressure cooker can cook an entire meal in as little as 15 minutes. It can cook just one item for your meal, such as a roast, while you cook the rest of the meal in separate vessels using different methods, or it can cook the full meal similar to a slow cooker. When food is in a microprocessor-controlled pressure cooker, it doesn’t require much attention until cooking is complete. Then, you use the pressure release valve to release the steam, open the lid and remove your food. Stove top models require constant supervision, but they can maintain higher pressures and offer even shorter cooking times. To pan-fry, you must devote at least 20 to 30 minutes to whatever you’re pan-frying in addition to the time non-fried meal items take. You should constantly monitor items while pan-frying and turn them to prevent the exterior from burning before the interior is cooked.
The Nutrition Factor
To pan-fry, you need an oil or fat to fry the ingredients; therefore, whatever you’re cooking will absorb some of that oil. As with any high heat cooking method, heat-sensitive nutrients, vitamins and minerals might be reduced during the cooking process. Pressure cookers also use high heat; some essential nutrients are lost, but because you don't need to use much liquid, this method retains more nutrients than others such as pan-frying. Pressure cookers don’t use oil or fats to cook, and, according to Eating Well magazine, pressure cooked meats have a lower amount of unsaturated fats.