Getting The Most Out of Your Pressure Cooker

A pressure cooker, or “presto”, is a very easy way to speed up your cooking. You can make many of the same soup and stew recipes you would make in a crock pot, in a fraction of the time, with only small adjustments. When I plan a meal too late to use a crock pot, I will often use a pressure cooker. But making soup and stew is not its only purpose : you can also use it to speed the cooking time of beans, grains, meat and vegetables.

Here is a nice Presto pressure cooker from Amazon to give you an idea of how they look. They’re great products with lots of replacement parts available, my mother has used their pressure cookers for years and swears by them :

I only have a small 5.5 liter pressure cooker from Fresco and it’s more than enough for me since I live alone. It’s not the best brand or anything and there are many models with more pressure that would cook faster but it does the job. And do yourself a favor, buy a new one unless you find a really good deal for an expensive model : the rubber ring in the lid will get worn with time, reducing the pressure and raising the cooking time.

Pressure cooker safety

First, a few words on safety since I hear this excuse a lot : pressure cooker are nowhere near as dangerous as they used to be. With the numbers of safeties built-in, you have to be careless to have one explode on you.

The only case where it WILL explode is if you let the pressure build too much, and that will only happen if you don’t watch it. Really, you just have to stay somewhere where you will hear it. The worse it could do is spill like a normal cooking pot when the pressure gets too high. Just put it out of the fire and the pressure will slowly lower.

How to use a pressure cooker

Using a pressure cooker is easy : put everything in the pot, lock it well and put it on the fire. You have to add a bit more water than usual, but don’t worry, the instruction manual that comes with the pressure cooker will help you. Just make sure you never fill the pressure cooker more than 2/3 full, there will be a maximum load line in the cooker.

When the pressure valve starts moving (again depending on the model), lower the fire a bit so it stays at the same temperature. The cooking time usually stated in pressure cooker recipes is counted from the time the valve starts moving.

When you cooking time is over, you can take the pressure cooker out of the fire. There are two methods you can then use to open it : quick release, where you put the cooker under cold water, and slow release where you wait until the pressure has lowered to open it. If the recipe doesn’t specify a method, you can use the one you prefer.

What to cook in a pressure cooker

There are many things you can cook in a pressure cooker, and I don’t pretend to have tried everything that can be dome with it. Here is a list of the things I do most often with it :

  • Beans and lentils : Now that I can make all those wonderful organic beans available in the health store in a third of the time, I don’t buy beans in cans anymore.  Pressure cooker beans taste a lot better, and if you soaked them before cooking, they will be ready in 40 minutes at worst (for the bigger beans).You may add a tablespoon of oil for every cup of dry bean to reduce foaming and keeps the skin from clogging the valve. Don’t add any salt or seasoning to the water. With that method, you will be able to cook all varieties of beans despite what the pressure cooking manual says.
  • Grains : Like beans, you will be able to enjoy all kinds of organic whole grains without the long cooking time. Use the same method with oil and no salt or seasoning, and you will be able to enjoy a wide variety of grains.
  • Vegetables : When I need some mashed potatoes fast, this is the best solution : you just peel them and put them whole in the pot. It will be done in 10-15 minutes. Same thing if I need any other vegetable cooked in water or broth for a recipe.
  • Soups and stews : Making a good soup or stew that tastes like it’s been stewing for hours in 30 minutes of cooking time or less is possible with a pressure cooker. I do all my soups in it and it’s wonderful, I have started adding peas, barley and lentils in my soups again because it’s so fast and easy.  Just use your usual recipes and add a bit more water to allow for the pressure cooker and you will get a good meal fast.

Pressure Cooker Recipes

Here are all the pressure cooker recipes on DIYist :

I hope you will be able to use more efficiently one of my favorite time-saving tools in the kitchen. Your food will retain a lot more taste and nutrients since it’s cooked so fast, and you will be able to enjoy foods you never had time to cook. Try it, it’s not that scary!

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2 Responses

  1. October 4, 2009

    […] this, put the following in a pressure cooker (read my pressure cooker primer if you want to learn how to use it) […]

  2. October 19, 2009

    […] After this, add enough water to cover the vegetables and cook for 10 minutes in the pressure cooker, counting from when the pressure gauge starts moving (see my pressure cooker article for more details). […]

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