Cooking with a Pressure Cooker

Linda Johnson Larsen
Pressure cooker

Cooking with a pressure cooker can help you stretch your food budget, save energy, and spend less time in the kitchen. Pressures cookers are easy to use and very versatile. After a bit of practice, you may find that it is your favorite piece of kitchenware.

What Is a Pressure Cooker?

A pressure cooker is a pot with a rubber gasket that tightly seals the lid and a regulated pressure-release valve. Unlike stovetop cooking, when food comes to a boil and the steam evaporates, the retained steam in a pressure cooker builds pressure so food cooks more quickly. This pressure is maintained by the regulator on top of the lid.

The pressure cooker will reduce cooking time, save energy, and let you cook tougher and cheaper cuts of meat, making them absolutely moist and delicious.

Modern Cookers

Old pressure cookers were large and noisy, and, when ignored or used improperly, could cause an explosion of food all over the kitchen. Worry no longer - this cooking process has caught up with the modern age. Many pressure cookers are electric with digital controls and many built-in safety features. The appliance now has an automatic shut-off valve.

Cook a Variety of Foods

Barley risotto with zucchinis and fresh tomatoes

Today's cookers are just as capable of handling a small job as a large one. Most can cook more than six quarts of soup, chili, or stew, handle a large roast or piece of meat, but can also delicately steam your favorite vegetables. Today's cookers are easy to use and regulate.

Instructions Vary by Model

Make sure that you read the instruction booklet that comes with your pressure cooker before you do anything else. Different models may have different instructions for timing and ingredient amounts.

Using a Manual Pressure Cooker

There are a few basic useful points to remember when cooking with a manual pressure cooker.

  • You can braise a roast or sauté meats or vegetables in a pressure cooker before you actually use it to cook, so you don't need to dirty a skillet before you start cooking.
  • Pay attention to the amount of cooking liquid your recipe calls for and do not add more. These recipes are calibrated with precise measurements.
  • Never fill this type of pressure cooker past the halfway point.
  • When the pressure cooker starts working, you will hear a distinctive noise. It sounds like a hissing and then a rhythmic thunk-thunk sound. Turn down the heat and let the pressure cooker cook. Time the cooking from this point.
  • Second generation pressure cookers usually have a spring valve that will release a rod or bar when the appliance has reached pressure. Older models may have a jiggler valve that will rock as steam begins to come out of the appliance.
  • Never ever try to open a manual pressure cooker while it is cooking.
  • Stay away from the steam. The steam that comes out of the pressure cooker is very hot and can burn instantly.
  • When your timer sounds, remove the pressure cooker from the heat using pot holders, and either release the valve and let it cool naturally, or place it in the sink and run a stream of cold water over the top of the pan. It can take 10 to 30 minutes for the pressure to release enough so the lid can be opened.

Using a Digital Pressure Cooker

Digital pressure cookers do (almost) all the work for you. These appliances plug into a standard wall outlet, so you don't need to use the stove at all.

  • Make sure that the gaskets are solid and clean before you start cooking. The vent tube should be clear. You can clean it with a pipe cleaner or the cleaning tool that comes with the pressure cooker.
  • Make sure that you follow timing instructions to the letter.
  • Do not add more food than the recipe calls for. And make sure that the size of your pressure cooker matches the size mentioned in the recipe.
  • Learn about the high and low pressure cooking settings before you begin. Every pressure cooker may have a different pounds per square inch (PSI) number. The pressure cooker manual will list recommended cooking times and PSI for different foods.
  • Each pressure cooker has a slightly different minimum liquid requirement. The liquid is necessary to cook the food quickly and thoroughly.
  • Digital pressure cookers can be filled 2/3 full. But fill the appliance 1/2 full when cooking foods that can foam such as beans.
  • Digital pressure cookers have an indicator light or make a beep when they have reached pressure.
  • A digital pressure cooker will time the cooking automatically so you don't have to set a timer.
  • Never leave the house (or the kitchen) while the pressure cooker is working.

What You Can Cook

The list of what you can cook in the pressure cooker is long! You can cook anything from seafood to beef, soups to tough root vegetables, and stews to stewed apples. Many pressure cookers today come with a low and high set pressure regulator with the pressure going from 5 to 15 pounds PSI. You can go to Fast Cooking.ca, a site devoted to fast cooking, for a great list of pressure cooking times for just about any food.

Foods to Cook in a Pressure Cooker on High
Food Size Cooking Time
Beef pot roast 3 pounds 65 to 75 minutes
Whole chicken 3 to 4 pounds 25 to 35 minutes
Pork roast 2 to 3 pounds 20 to 25 minutes
Turkey breast bone in 4 to 6 pounds 20 to 30 minutes
Cabbage quarters 3" diameter 3 to 5 minutes
Whole potatoes 1/2 pound each 10 to 15 minutes
Sweet potato 1 pound each 10 to 15 minutes
White rice 1-1/2 cups 4 to 6 minutes
Brown rice 1-1/2 cups 13 to 17 minutes
Wild rice 2 cups 25 to 30 minutes
Steel cut oatmeal 1-1/2 cups 11 minutes
Wheat berries 3 cups 25 to 30 minutes
Pearl barley 4 cups 25 to 30 minutes
Dried beans 2 to 3 cups 22 to 25 minutes
Whole fish 3 to 4 pounds 5 to 8 minutes

Cooking Tips

Beware of foods that foam while they cook; do not overfill the pressure cooker with these ingredients. That includes split peas, beans, oatmeal, barley, and fruits such as apples and cranberries. Make sure that you pierce potatoes and sweet potatoes with a fork or knife before cooking them or they could explode in the appliance.

Cooking Poultry

When cooking poultry, make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked so it is safe to eat. All poultry should be cooked to 165°F as tested with a thermometer. If the chicken or turkey isn't 165°F, bring up the pressure again and cook for 2 to 5 minutes longer.

Pressure Cooker Roast Chicken

Try making a delicious chicken in your pressure cooker.

Ingredients

pressure cooker chicken
  • 1 (3 pound) whole chicken
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced
  • 2 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Instructions

  1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Don't rinse the chicken; that will just spread bacteria around your kitchen.
  2. Put the lemon slices, green onions, and garlic in the chicken cavity. Truss the chicken using kitchen twine. Cut off a piece of twine about 30" long. Tuck the chicken wings behind the back. Put the chicken on the twine and bring the twine under the wings. Pull the twine over the chicken, cross it, and then tie the legs together over the cavity opening.
  3. Rub the chicken with the butter and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and marjoram.
  4. Put the chicken on a rack in the pressure cooker. Pour the chicken broth into the cooker around the chicken.
  5. Lock the pressure cooker lid and set the timer for 25 minutes on high pressure if you are using a digital appliance. If you are using a manual appliance, lock the lid and bring the cooker up to high pressure according to the appliance instructions. When the appliance gets to pressure, set a timer for 25 minutes.
  6. After 25 minutes, the pressure will automatically release on the digital cooker. Release the pressure on the manual cooker according to instructions.
  7. Check the temperature of the chicken; it should be 165°F. Remove the chicken from the pressure cooker, cover with foil, and let stand 5 minutes.
  8. Carve the chicken to serve. You can thicken the liquid in the pressure cooker for gravy while the chicken is standing; just put the liquid in a small pan and whisk in about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or flour; simmer for a minute or two until thickened.

Serves 4

Additional Benefits of Using a Pressure Cooker

You'll find plenty of benefits if you choose to use a pressure cooker.

  • Cheaper cuts of meat cook very well in a pressure cooker, so your grocery budget gets a break.
  • Foods also taste better when cooked in this appliance since flavor is locked into the cooker.
  • Foods can also be more nutritious since water-soluble vitamins don't escape during the cooking process. Introduce new foods to your family with ease since they will taste better.
  • The addition of liquid in the form of broth, cooking wines, and basting juices all help seal in food's natural juices during the cooking process.
  • You can cut down on the amount of salt a recipe calls for, which is a boon for people who must restrict sodium. Because foods cooked in a pressure cooker are more flavorful, the need for salt is reduced.
  • Your pressure cooker may replace other appliances, especially the Dutch oven, steamers, and stockpots.

Start Cooking Quickly

Once you've familiarized yourself with the pressure cooker, select a recipe and start cooking. You'll be amazed at how quickly you can go from the thought of dinner to actually putting it on the table.

Cooking with a Pressure Cooker