Using A Pressure Cooker

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Pressure cooking is the process of cooking food at high pressure, by using a liquid (usually water, stock, wine or a combination) in a specialty cooking pot called a pressure cooker. Just about any ingredient that can be steamed or has the ability to be cooked with liquids, can be pressure cooked.

Using A Pressure Cooker

Pressure cookers are designed to make short work of slow cooked dishes. They’re economical in the amount of power they use and can reduce cooking times by up to 70%. They retain nutrients in food really well, making them a healthy cooking option. You can achieve the same results as a slow-cooked meal in a fraction of the time. Lentils, starchy vegetables and chickpeas are very well suited to pressure cooking.

Pressure cookers have come a long way since those vintage rattling, steam spluttering machines. These days pressure cookers are safe and easy to use, while also saving you precious time and money.

Safety

During cooking, the steam gradually escapes out of a regulator on the lid. Some caution is needed before opening the lid, you have to make sure you release the pressure completely or the contents can explode. As long as you follow the instructions that come with your pressure cooker this is very unlikely to happen. Modern pressure cookers have a number of safety features and this is for good reason. The heat generated by the steam could easily scold if not handled properly. Follow the instructions for your specific model and you won’t need to worry about this.

Liquid & Filling

Pressure cookers cook with steam. No liquid means no steam. You can’t and shouldn’t use your pressure cooker unless you’ve added sufficient liquid. Instructions will let you know the minimum and maximum amount and some even tell you how much to use for different items. Do not exceed the exceeded maximum amount of ingredients. A guideline to follow is that your pressure cooker should never be more than 2/3rds full. Overfilling leads to food being ejected from the pressure release valve which can be a messy business!

Cooking  

For one-pot cooking, you can brown vegetables in the pressure cooker, but you need to do it in small batches to avoid anything stewing. Turn your stove up to a high heat so that the pressure cooking process can begin as soon as possible. If you take too long heating foods up, they can end up being overcooked and suggested timings will be incorrect. Recipes will tell you to start cooking from when the correct pressure has been reached. When you get to this point, turn the heat right down to the minimum temperature you can while still maintaining pressure.

Timing

Cooking times in standard recipes are a good indicator for estimating time needed in a pressure cooker. Whole pulses will need longer than split peas, brown rice longer than white, and vegetables take very little time at all. By cutting your ingredients to similar sizes will help them cook evenly. Add items that will need a longer cooking time at the beginning and those that need less later on (making sure steam has been safely released in the process). If you’re not sure on cooking times, undercook rather than overcook. You can always bring the food back under pressure and continue but once it’s spoilt, there’s no fixing it!

Releasing The Pressure

There are usually three ways to release steam in your pressure cooker:

  • taking it off the heat and allowing it to release in its own time.
  • turning a pressure release valve (use oven gloves or a spatula for this as hot steam will rush out).
  • Running the pressure cooker under a cold tap.

The first option is ideal for dishes like stews where long cooking times would be involved.  The second is suitable for any dishes that aren’t delicate, and the third for ingredients like vegetables where overcooking may occur. These last two options save time.

Never force the lid open. Modern cookers have a safety feature which stops you opening the lid, don’t tamper with this to get the pot open or you may get burnt. If you’re in a hurry, run the cooker under a cold tap until the pressure indicator drops and the lid comes off easily.

Thickening The Liquid

Moisture is retained during pressure cooking which means sauces don’t thicken. You can do this afterwards by leaving your pressure cooker on the heat once the lid is removed and reducing the gravy to your desired consistency. A cornflour slurry mixture, pureed nuts or vegetables added at this point will help it along.

Cleaning

Pressure cooker lids are not designed for the dishwasher or for immersion in water. Wash them under a running tap and clean with dishwashing liquid, taking off the rubber lid/seal for a thorough clean. Some base pots are suitable for dishwashers, others are not. Remember to always check the cleaning and storage instructions.

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