Pressure cooking offers you the advantages of different slow cooking methods. It lets you replicate the same tenderizing effects of braising or slow cooking, but in far less time.
Pressure cooking helps to retain the food’s moisture, which in turn keeps the nutrient value high. As a plug-in appliance, a pressure cooker also uses less energy than most cooking methods, adding convenience and cost-savings to meal preparation.
Once a pressure cooker is loaded and switched on, it requires very little attention, freeing you up to do other things like spending time with the family.
Pressure cooking vs. steaming
Pressure cooking is similar to steam cooking. In both methods, food is placed in a pot with a small amount of liquid that cooks the food through steam. The key difference is pressure.
Pressure cookers use the liquid in the cooker to create intense or “saturated” steam which can reach a temperature of 250 °F at a pressure of 15 pounds per square inch. This increased pressure allows you to cook almost any food much quicker than the traditional steaming method.
- In pressure cooking, no oils or fats are used, which eliminates a lot calories.
- Also, because very little liquid is used, the natural vitamins and minerals in the food are not leached out as with boiling.
- Vitamins are also retained because of the shorter cooking time.
- The extreme temperature also serves to kill off micro-organisms, which make pressure cookers a great tool for sterilizing jam pots or glass baby bottles.
Using Your Pressure Cooker
Using Your Pressure Cooker
Pressure cooker parts
Pressure cookers consist of a few basic parts. A pot holds both the liquid and food, with an airtight lid fitted overtop so no steam can escape. The lid has a single vent, which allows pressure to be regulated during cooking.
A basket or barrier separates the food from the cooking liquids. Some baskets further divide the foods in the pot, separating meats from vegetables, for example.
Testing your pressure cooker
Before you begin cooking meals with your pressure cooker, you should test it to see at which temperature your cooker regulates its pressure. This can be done by doing the following:
- Add 2 cups of water to the pressure cooker, locking the lid and putting the pressure regulator in place. Do not add any food or flavourings.
- Bring the cooker to high pressure using high heat. Once the cooker reaches high pressure and the regulator begins to move, adjust the heat to the lowest possible temperature that still maintains the pressure and moves the regulator consistently. This may take several attempts to find the right setting, so be patient.
- Once the cooker is able to maintain the regular pressure for five minutes, note the actual heat position on your stove using a piece of tape or a coloured sticky dot. Also note how long it took to reach the setting.
- If your cooker has more than one pressure setting, repeat the above process for each setting.
- To determine the amount of water your cooker requires for longer cooking times for roasts, whole chickens, etc:
a. Repeat the above process, increasing the time to 30 minutes.
b. Cool the cooker at once, using running cold tap water.
c. Open the cooker and measure the amount of remaining fluid. You should have at least one cup of water for jiggle-regulator-top cookers, and a 1/2 cup of water for second generation cookers with spring-loaded valves. If you have more or less liquid, adjust your liquid amount accordingly and retest.
Pressure cooking steps
Regardless of type or model, the cooking steps for all pressure cookers are fundamentally the same:
- Use the appropriate amount of water-based liquid as detailed in your pressure cooking recipe. Don’t add so much fluid that you immerse the food. You don’t want to drown your food in the cooker.
- Add your food, ensuring that it’s separated from the liquid using a basket or cooking rack.
- Ensure the lid vent is free of debris and not clogged. Do this by holding the lid up to the light. You should be able to look directly through the vent hole. If the hole is not clear, clean the vent hole out prior to use.
- Place the lid on top of the pot, locking the pot and lid handles together. Both handles should be aligned to ensure a proper seal.
- Place the pressure regulator over the vent pipe on the lid. Heat the pressure cooker until the regulator begins to slowly rock. Adjust the heat so the regulator maintains a slow and steady rocking motion. This is when the cooking time actually begins.
- Cook and cool the pressure cooker as per the instructions. If the recipe says you should let the pressure drop on its own then just set it aside to cool. If it says you should cool the cooker at once, place it under cold running water until cooled.
- The pressure is completely reduced when the air vent or cover lock has dropped. Don’t remove the lid until the pressure has fully dropped. Remove the pressure regulator first and then remove the lid.
Pressure cooking liquids
Always check the instructions that come with your pressure cooker to ensure that you do not use too much fluid. Longer cooking times may require more fluid, so some recipes will have to be adjusted accordingly.
Water is the most common cooking liquid, but other water-based liquids can also be used to enhance your food’s flavour.
Red wine adds flavour to red meats; white wine and acidic juices can be used for lighter meats like poultry and fish.
Pressure cooking rice
Long grain rice can be cooked perfectly in a pressure cooker. Place 1/2 cup of water in the pan with the cooking rack in place. Place one cup of long grain, non-prepared rice and 1 1/2 cups of water in a stainless steel bowl inside the pressure cooker.
Pressurize the cooker and cook for four minutes. Release the pressure cooker from the heat, allowing the pressure to drop naturally.
Open the lid and fluff rice with a fork.
Pressure cooking meat
Meats can be cooked with shorter cooking times, providing very tender and flavourful results. Place the meat inside the pressure cooker as per your cooker’s instruction manual. Use water or an appropriate water-based flavouring like wine or broth.
Tender pork and beef such as liver, short ribs or stewing meats will take less time (10-15 minutes), where tougher meats like pot roasts, oxtail, heart and brisket will take longer times (35-75 minutes).
Cool the cooker per the recipe and serve.
Pressure cooking fish
Use a lower pressure to cook fish and seafood since the proteins in these meats are much more delicate. By pressure- cooking fish and seafood, the meat remains tender and gives you the ability to infuse flavours brought in through the cooking fluid.
Use citrus flavours and white wine for cooking. Most whole fish will cook in approximately 5 minutes, where most shellfish will cook in 2-3 minutes.
Tip: Make sure to cook at a lower pressure.
Pressure cooking chicken
Chicken is another food that pressure cooks well. The proteins in chicken take on the flavours of the cooking fluid very easily.
Cook at a high pressure, as most segmented pieces of chicken such as chicken breast strips, legs and thighs will take approximately 5-7 minutes.
Whole breasts with the bone will take upwards of 8-10 minutes. A whole chicken can be pressure cooked for 12-25 minutes depending upon its size.
Pressure cooking tips
- Store your cooker properly: Place the lid upside down on the pan with the basket and any other utensils inside. Always wash the cooker thoroughly before storing and make sure the gasket is pliable and flexible.
- Cook in liquid: Never use the pressure cooker without adding water or a cooking fluid. Cooking without liquid will ruin your food as well as your cooker.
- Don’t overfill the pressure cooker: In order for steam to adequately permeate your food and cook properly, ensure the steam has room to move around the cooker. Never fill the cooker more than 2/3 full with food, and never more than half full of liquid.
- Adjust your heat appropriately: If you performed the above test on your cooker (see Testing your pressure cooker), you’ll know how to appropriately adjust your cooker’s heat to ensure perfect cooking. Keep the pressure on the food consistently to ensure even cooking.
- Watch your food sizes: Make sure that all the pieces of food are cut into the same size so that they cook evenly. Differently sized food will cook unevenly.
- Brown meats for great flavour: By performing a quick sauté on meats prior to pressure cooking, juices are sealed inside the meat, increasing flavour and tenderness. Deglaze your pressure cooker pan afterwards to make sauces for the meats as well.
- Adjust your existing recipes for pressure cookers: You can take many of your favourite recipes and adjust them for pressure cooking. Ensure that you have enough liquid to cook the dish, approximately 1-2 cups. Reduce the recipe cooking time by 25-50%. When adapting a recipe for pressure cooking, never overcook.
- Use a probe thermometer: Ensure food is cooked to the proper internal temperature by using a probe thermometer.