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Presto cooker


Ten or so years ago, my mom gave me her old pressure cooker. The Presto Cook-Master Cooker Model 104 is from the 1960s or 1970s. My mom couldn’t remember. Some research didn’t provide date-details, but on eBay, it’s described as “Vintage.”

It’s been sitting, dormant, in the back of a cabinet, an hours drive away, for the past ten years. No interest on my part. I have a crock pot. I have a wok. What exactly does a pressure cooker do? Isn’t it more of an appliance? Like a microwave? It’s an obsolete, all-aluminum (therefore toxic) dinosaur. I don’t even remember any childhood meals from the thing.

But I don’t toss out the old easily.

Last week in Williams-Sonoma, there was a pressure-cooker revival going on in the back. Equipped with a 2013 Fissler Vitaquick Pressure Cooker, a chef churned out Rotini in Tomato Sauce in 15 minutes. A one-pot pasta.

“Unfortunately, nobody uses pressure cookers any more,” the chef said to the crowd.

“I have one from the ’60s or ’70s,” I said.

She told me it probably wouldn’t work anymore. I needed a Fissler.

That’s all I needed to hear. I drove the hour a few days later, and picked up my pitted, aluminum, old and dirty Presto with the broken handle. I brought it home.

presto ingredients

They all go to pot at once.

I set out to pick up the short list of ingredients – ground beef, onion, garlic, oil, twirly pasta, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese. That’s it. (Because I couldn’t decide what kind of mozzarella to get, I ended up forgetting it altogether. So I used the Gouda I had on hand. Cheese is cheese – especially when steam-softened.)

I sautéed the onions and garlic in canola oil, then browned the beef, and then I got to throw everything else in all at once. Even the dry pasta: Dry pasta

I clamped it shut, turned up the fire, and stood back.

Presto cooking

The hard part is not being able to see what is going on inside. I wanted to peek after 10 minutes, but the lid was shaking, and the seams were bubbling; hissing; gurgling. My old Presto did not have the “Euromatic Safety Valve,” or the “Residual Pressure Block,” or the “Auto-locking Lid and Visual Indicator” with “Automatic Steam Release,” that comes with the new Fissler.

All safety features that, to me, squash entertainment and merrymaking out of the whole undertaking. Nope – my no-indicator, nozzle-spinning, vibrating, silver-studded noodle heater may have been one step away from exploding. It could have poked my eye out. I could taste the danger!

I gave the whole process 15 minutes. When it started whistling like a locomotive, I turned off the flame. I couldn’t open it. I ran it under cold water, and …

Presto done

… a potful of superlative. Pure with flavor; vivid with smell. The burnt, black residue on the bottom offered a mouthful of smoke; a tang. Like real food.

The new Fissler is stainless steel with an aluminum base, and sells for $300. My vintage Presto is all aluminum, thank you!, and is priceless.

Check out the recipe here.