Cooking under pressure requires much less liquid than conventional cooking methods since there is less evaporation. You can always use more liquid than recommended in a pressure cooker recipe, but never use less. The whole concept of pressure cookers is simple. Water or any cooking liquid comes to a boil at 212° at which point it produces steam. Steam is hotter than boiling water and can reach approximately 250°. Trapped steam builds up putting approximately 10 to 13 PSI (pounds per square inch) on food, making it cook by at least 25% faster. For this reason there are a few VERY important things to remember.
- Begin cooking under pressure over a high heat.
- Once the pressure cooker comes up to pressure, lower the heat to a low heat setting so that it maintains the pressure without exceeding it. If pressure appears to be dropping, raise the burner up slightly. This is easy when using a gas range, but if you are cooking with an electric range you will need to use two burners; one on high heat to get things going; the other on low to maintain the pressure.
Pressure cookers cook quickly since they use the pressure created from the built-up of the hot trapped steam in the pot. Because of this there are a few important things to remember.
- Always use at least 1 cup of cooking liquid.
- Never fill the pressure cooker more than half way full with liquid. You can always reduce liquid by boiling off excesses later until you reach your desired consistency.
Even though steam doesn’t weigh anything, it needs space in the pressure cooker to build up. For this reason always remember:
- Never fill it more than two-thirds full with food.
- Never fill it more than half full with liquid.
The key to cooking with a pressure cooker is timing. Timing is as important as developing pressure. Once you have reduced pressure according to the recipe directions, be sure to set a digital kitchen timer for the recommended cooking time. Remember:
- All cooking times are approximate and might be understated, but it’s always better to under cook something than overcook it.
- If food needs to be cooked longer, do so in 1-5 minute intervals under pressure.
- The harder (tougher) the food, the longer the additional time!
Size really does matter when it comes to recipe preparation. A few important things to remember are:
- For consistent results, cut foods into pieces of uniform size to promote even cooking. Large pieces of meat take considerably longer to cook than say smaller cubed pieces as do pieces with bones.
- When mixing foods, such as meat, potatoes, and vegetables, begin by cooking the meat, say halfway, release pressure then add the potatoes; cook then for 2/3 their recommended cooking time, and at last add the quicker cooking vegetables. You may need to follow this “stop and go” routine several times, but it’s important so that the food retains its texture as well as flavor.
- For extra flavor, brown or sauté foods first just like you would when cooking with conventional cookware. For instance, brown the meat and vegetables for a stew, before adding other liquids and cooking under pressure. Be sure to deglaze the pot, scraping up any browned bits clinging to the bottom with a small amount of wine, broth or even water, so they are loosen, adding flavor to your food, as well as discouraging scorching.
Rapid or Natural Release? Unlike your great-grandmother’s pressure cooker, an important safety feature of today’s pressure cookers is that they can’t be opened until you completely release the pressure from the pot. Depending on what you’re making, you will release steam, and therefore pressure, from your pressure cooker by either using one of the two following methods:
The Natural Release Method: when cooking tough or large cuts of meat, remove the pressure cooker from the heat source and let the pressure dissipate on its own as the pressure cooker cools down. This can take up to 30 minutes.
Quick Release Method: when cooking most recipes that contain foods that are softer, read the owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to release pressure as soon as the food is done cooking. The easiest way to do so, is to move the pressure cooker from the stove to the sink and run cold water over the top side of the lid and pot until the all the pressure is released, taking less than a minute.
You can adapt your favorite recipes for the pressure cooker pretty simply. Even though the pressure cooker is best suited for cooking foods that require long cooking times such as soups, stews, and beans, you can cook almost anything in it. The following are a few hints for adapting conventional recipes to the pressure cooker:
- Prep ingredients as called for in the conventional recipe.
- Make sure you are using enough liquid to create steam (usually a minimum of 1 to 2 cups).
- Try and match the conventional recipe to a similar pressure cooker version and adjust the ingredients and cooking time accordingly.
- Cut back on the cooking time at least 25%, up to 50%. Remember, you can always go back and cook the food longer if need be, while overcooked mushy food cannot be saved!
Make sure you store your pressure cooker correctly. The most convenient and best way to store your pressure cooker after using it is to place the lid upside down, on top of the pot. Always wash the pot, lid and rubber gasket by hand with soapy, warm water; dry well before putting away. Make sure to check that the safety valves are clean and unobstructed and that the rubber gasket is always pliable and flexible before inserting it under the lid. DO NOT STORE IN A CLOSED SEALED POSITION.