OPOS: Inside a Secret Pressure Cooker Community

From chicken tikka to vangi bath, OPOS promises a foolproof method to get it right, with just one pot — the pressure cooker. Apoorva Sripathi meets the OPOS cult.

B Ramakrishnan has a radical idea to transform your kitchen into a total powerhouse. And it involves just one vessel — the humble pressure cooker.

According to Ramakrishnan (better known as Ramki), the pressure cooker's secret to cooking flavourful food can be unlocked by using the OPOS technique (One Pot One Shot), which he promises, is the "cleanest, greenest, healthiest, tastiest and fastest way to cook just about anything". Imagine dinner being ready in 10 minutes — just about the time it takes to log into Netflix and queue up your favourite show.

A Chennai-based chef and restaurateur, Ramki is known for his nonconformist attitude toward food, entrepreneurship and steadfast experimentation. OPOS was the result of one of his many endeavours to de-skill cooking techniques. “There’s no common ground between two people if they cook in an open pot — the temperature, climate, altitude, all contribute to the cooking conditions," he explains. But the pressure cooker is different — it creates a controlled cooking environment, besides being cheap and easily accessible. Ramki then worked on transforming regular recipes into pressure baking ones. "It's as close to automated cooking as we've come."

Thakkali thokku made in a pressure cooker using the OPOS technique Photo credit: Chef In You

Thakkali thokku made in a pressure cooker using the OPOS technique
Photo credit: Chef In You

Traditional cooking in India has always depended on slow-cooking methods with a tendency to compensate natural flavours with numerous spices. However, the pressure cooker uses a different technique — "It's about cooking food in its own juices at the highest possible heat, in the lowest possible time — OPOS helps unlock an ingredient's goodness, like the tandoor," explains Ramki.  

The equipment has routinely come under scrutiny though. The standard narrative surrounding the pressure cooker is that it is too noisy, unwieldy, old-fashioned and ugly. But right now, it has been given a second wind, thanks to the popularity of multipurpose cookware, slow-cookers and the internet's latest obsession, the Instant Pot.

In January, The New Yorker carried a story about this now-cult kitchen gadget, that described how a Dallas-based Indian food blogger realised that the Instant Pot was more matched to desi cooking than the ubiquitous pressure cooker, and went on to land a book deal. According to the story, India is among the most active countries on the Instant Pot Community Facebook group.

Cooking with the IP might be the trend worldwide, but Ramki isn't taken with it. The IP, according to him, only automates cooking, but OPOS also makes food taste better. "The western audience likes it [the IP] not only because it's convenient but because it's aspirational," he says.

In 2008, Ramki came up with the OPOS Cookbook: 5 Minute Magic, which took a theme-based approach (as opposed to a recipe-based one) and broke down recipes by simplifying and eliminating technique. But there was still something missing, even among this wealth of recipes. "No one was using the cookbook, which made me realise that it had to be translated into practical use," Ramki says. Today, OPOS is completely easy for a person new to cooking as well as someone who has been cooking for decades. "We've deconstructed recipes so much that many don't even call for the vegetables to be cut, nor do you require fancy equipment," he says.

So what's the secret behind OPOS? On the official Facebook page, Ramki has a long list of lessons for beginners, which can seem extremely long-winded. Besides, a technique that banks on exacting measurements and precise time and heat specifications, feels more like a lab experiment than cooking. But, you cannot go wrong with it. Just ask the niche community of 30,000 home cooks and bloggers. From making rice and dal, the Indian staple, the pressure cooker is now being used to make anything from ghee, to tadka and even an Onam sadya.

Ramakrishnan explaining the OPOS technique

Ramakrishnan explaining the OPOS technique

The community, connected by social media, is no less vocal about this crusade. Susanna, a Chennai-based journalist, might be a recent convert, but her meat-only household is now hooked on to the flavours of vegetables. "Take the vangi bath recipe. In five minutes, you have a flavourful rice dish that can compete with biryani. Even dishes like chicken tikka and pepper chicken have a depth of flavour that doesn’t match up to the usual methods," she says. Today, her breakfast, lunch and dinner are all OPOS-based recipes — from rasam and kadai paneer, to tomato soup and butter chicken.

Another convert is Dhivya Karthik of the food blog Chef In You, who was introduced to OPOS about two years ago, and whose biggest challenge was cooking balanced meals on a daily basis. But OPOS, she says, helped her cook faster. While pickles, curries and Indian sweets (that require various stages of a complicated sugar syrup) have been simplified by OPOS, it's the hard-boiled egg that gets her vote. "There are possibly million ways on the internet to peel eggs and I've most probably tried them. They work arbitrarily and so I couldn't stick to one method for more than a month. So, when I saw the OPOS method, I was extremely skeptical. For a week, I tried 'knowing' it would fail soon. But it's been a year now and I am still enjoying the pleasures of having the peel willingly come off with no effort," she says. She also has words of comfort for people who have the usual fear of a pressure cooker bursting midway, because OPOS cooking requires minimal water. "Bursting a pressure cooker is a hard thing to do. In 99.99 percent cases, only the safety seal melts, expelling a jet of steam. There is a process, a method, to the way you approach recipes. Once you have it down pat, the rest is a breeze."

Eggs that have been perfectly boiled using OPOS  Photo credit: Chef In You

Eggs that have been perfectly boiled using OPOS
 Photo credit: Chef In You

Despite the following OPOS has already gathered, Ramki insists on improving the experience. The result is the OPOS Kit that he recently launched in collaboration with Butterfly Appliances. It contains the Pressure Baker (a two litre stainless steel cooker), a vessel with a lid, small separator vessels, measuring cups and spoons along with recipe cards. At the end the day, Ramki stresses that this is community building. "Food has always been segregated, but something like OPOS has made people willing to try each other's recipes. It truly is an equaliser," he says.

Apoorva Sripathi is a Chennai-based writer and amateur artist.
Illustration by Akanksha Menon @hellagoodrawings