First-time users often feel intimidated at the sight of a pressure cooker. Who wouldn’t? All those valves and contraptions look so complicated. Circulating horror stories of exploding pressure cookers don’t help either. Fear not! Modern pressure cookers now have safety features, reducing chances of kitchen disasters to zero. Moreover, once you learn how to use your pressure cooker, you’ll realise why it is an absolute joy to have in the kitchen.
Steps to Successful Pressure Cooking
Unlike regular pots and pans, pressure cookers need a little figuring out. This guide should make the getting-to-know-you phase easy. Beef stew and pot roast here we come!
1. Study the manual and parts
The instruction manual should have the details you need to know how to use your pressure cooker, put it together and clean it after use. So, do not to skip this step. Reading the manual is also essential as pressure cookers come in two types: stovetop and electric pressure cookers. They give the same cooking results but come with different controls and designs, depending on the manufacturer.
Electric pressure cookers have an inner pot that goes inside the unit. You would have to fit the rubber gasket onto the lid and learn the control panel. Stovetop counterparts do not have a display or control panel, though. But it still has a gasket, while its cooking options are typically on the lid. Make sure you study how to put the top in the correct position and to release pressure for either type.
2. Add your food and cooking liquid
Pressure cookers cook your food through locked-in high pressure and steam. With these two inside, the pressure cooker can produce temperature above boiling point, resulting in shorter cook time than conventional methods. The extra force also allows heat energy to get into your pressure-cooked food more efficiently and tenderise even the toughest of meats.
To make this cooking process work, you need the right liquid-to-food ratio. Your manual should have a list of the recommended amount of liquid for cooking whole pulses, meats and more. So, make sure to follow it. Here are a few more tips related to this step:
- Cut food in uniform-sized pieces. This tip helps in ensuring your food cooks evenly. Food sliced thinly or in smaller pieces also cook faster.
- Don’t overfill your pressure cooker. When pressure cooking, there should be enough room inside for steam to build up. Overfilling your cooker will only cause food to reach and get inside the release valve, making clean-up difficult. So, it’s best to follow your manual or the measurement markings on the pot. As a general rule, your pressure cooker should be no more than half full for soups, two-thirds for vegetables or meat and one-thirds for grains or dried beans.
- Brown your food before pressure cooking. Your pressure cooker is a versatile tool that you can also use for sauteing, browning or searing. You can do any of these before pressure cooking, depending on your recipe, to develop flavour or let meats caramelise. After that, add sufficient liquid to start pressure cooking.
3. Lock the lid and start cooking
For pressure cooking safety and success, make sure to lock the lid correctly and close the release valve. If you have an electric cooker, select the correct pressure settings. For stovetop cookers, start on high heat to build up steam pressure. If you’re working with a jiggle-top model, cover the nozzle with the safety valve or weighted gauge when it starts hissing. Once it reaches high pressure, switch to a medium or lower temperature.
While you are still learning how to use your pressure cooker, make sure to follow the suggested cook times on your user manual. Keep in mind that high altitude can result in longer cooking time, too. During your first tries, it is likely for you to undercook your food. That’s alright, as long as you don’t overcook or burn it. You can always pressure cook it again if needed. Just take note of the cooking time and modify standard recipes each time. Eventually, you’ll get perfect results after a few repeats!
4. Release the pressure
After cooking, always remember not to force open the lid right away. The pot’s inside is very hot and full of hot steam that can burn you. So, for pressure cooking safety, follow one of these release methods when letting out excess pressure:
- Natural release. This method works for both electric and stovetop pressure cookers. Here, you let the sealed pot cool down on its own to lower the pressure inside the pot. Depending on the food inside and cooking time, natural pressure release should take around 20 minutes or more. This technique is ideal for casseroles, high-liquid foods or large pieces of meat, where overcooking is not a problem.
- Quick-release. Both electric and stovetop versions have a release valve that you can turn or press to let steam out instantly. When you do this, make sure to wear an oven glove and that the steam spout is free from obstructions. This method is best for quick-cooking items like vegetables and seafood.
- Cold-water release. This technique only works for stovetop pressure cookers, where you place the sealed pot under a cold tap. When you do this, aim the water towards the edge of the lid. This way, water flows down the sides of the pot to cool it down faster.
Check the pressure indicator to ensure you’ve removed all excess pressure and steam. After that, you can now open the lid. Make sure to keep your face away from the opening. At this point, you can finish cooking your dish by adding other ingredients like thickeners or leafy vegetables. Don’t forget to taste and season it before serving!
5. Clean and store it
This step is as important as knowing how to use your pressure cooker. Check your manual for instructions and pressure-cooking cleaning tips. Usually, pressure cooker pots are dishwasher safe, while the lid should be hand washed. Pressure cookers are not for soaking, though. So, make sure to wash them immediately after cooking to make food bits easier to clean.
The rubber gasket is a crucial part of your pressure cooker. And putting the gasket in the dishwasher could potentially deform it, so it’s best to stick to handwashing. Over time, this rubber ring may become sticky or show cracks.
Make sure to purchase replacement parts when needed. After washing your pressure cooker, dry it thoroughly then cover it with the lid upside-down to let air circulate.
If you still have any doubts about using a pressure cooker, you can check out this FAQ section.