I will start this post with a little story about how I discovered the pressure cooker. I went from knowing nothing, to hardly a day going by without using one. The story is life changing, and it can be for you too!
And don't worry! It is easy to learn to use a pressure cooker safely. I have a bunch of them now, and wonder what I ever did without them.
Here is the story. Before my husband and I got married, he took me to India to meet his parents.
After they “approved,” it was a whirlwind of preparations. We were in India for just a week, and his parents were intent on ensuring a few specific things were done to prepare for the marriage.
I never expected one of those things to include a visit to their neighborhood kitchen store in Mumbai to buy me cooking equipment.
I watched in awe as my father-in-law teared up while instructing the shopkeeper to fetch the necessary items.
I quickly understood it was very important to my future in-laws that I learn how to cook Indian vegetarian food. The whole family is vegetarian, and cooking food from scratch is deeply ingrained in the culture.
The daily use of pressure cookers is integral to Indian food culture, and I would say it is integral to vegetarian food culture in general.
Pressure cookers are the best way to cook lentils, beans, and peas, as well as whole grains, from scratch quickly and easily.
It also makes short work of cooking large vegetables, such as beetroot and potatoes.
What You Will Learn In This Post
Pressure Cooking is Fast and Easy and Safe!
Why Does a Pressure Cooker Cook Food Faster?
Using Your Pressure Cooker Safely
- Get to Know the Features of Your Pressure Cooker
- Using Your Jiggle Top Pressure Cooker
- Safely Removing the Lid
- Pressure Cooker Safety Tips
How Do I Cook Food in a Pressure Cooker?
- Cooking Beans, Peas, and Lentils
- Cooking Vegetables
Did I Mention Fast AND Easy AND Safe?
The pressure cooker is an essential time-saver for cooking many foods, especially lentils, beans, and peas. It can reduce cooking times by up to 70 percent, or more.
Let me give you an example.
After soaking chickpeas overnight, they can be cooked very quickly in a pressure cooker.
It takes about 10 minutes for the beans to reach what is known as high pressure (past the boiling point). Then the beans cook under pressure for 20 minutes. After turning off the heat, I generally wait 15 minutes before opening the lid and the chickpeas are beautifully soft.
The literal cooking time is 20 minutes. Or you could say it took 45 minutes.
Either way, this is fast. It would take over 2 hours in a saucepan to get the same result.A pressure cooker is incredibly easy to use once you learn how. Click To Tweet
It is incredibly easy to use a pressure cooker safely once you learn how.
In fact, here is another true story: I was given my pressure cookers without any instruction on how to use them.
I have to admit that the specifics of pressure cooking were a mystery to me for years.
Despite this, I was able to get decent results nearly every time.
This proves that you don’t need to be an expert to use a pressure cooker safely.
But read on, there is more piece-of-mind in knowing, and I am going to turn you into an instant expert. (No, not an Instant Pot expert!)
You may be wondering …
Why Does A Pressure Cooker Cook Food Faster?
The boiling temperature of water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and no matter how long water boils, it does not get hotter.
However, under pressure the water can get as high as 250 degrees. The higher temperature tenderizes the fiber in foods and allows for much faster cooking.
The seal between the pot and the lid is what enables the pressure cooker to build pressure.
In most pressure cookers, this is achieved via a rubber ring, called a gasket, that fits along the inner edge of the lid. The seal prevents steam from escaping, and allows the pressure to build.
Using Your Pressure Cooker Safely
Using a pressure cooker safely is simple once you understand the process. Read on to learn all the ins and outs.
1. Get To Know The Features Of Your Pressure Cooker
The images below show a jiggle top pressure cooker.
This is the least expensive (and most basic) type of pressure cooker, and the kind used most commonly in India.
They are what I use daily, and what I recommend you buy. I have an entire post on buying pressure cookers, so please check the hyperlink if you are interested.
I also own what is known as a second generation pressure cooker, which does not feature the jiggle top.
There are slight differences in how to cook with these, but the basic features described below are still present.
The latest addition to the family, the Instant Pot, is electronic and more automated than what I show, but the principles are the same.
It is very helpful to understand the features of your pressure cooker, and what each one does, so here it is!
A pressure cooker looks like a saucepan, except that it has a sealing lid. This seal is achieved by the use of a rubber ring called a gasket, which fits just inside the inner edge of the lid.
After each use, it is a good idea to remove the gasket, clean it, and dry it before returning it to its place on the lid.
If you aren’t getting a seal on your pot, the gasket may need to be replaced. Over time, the rubber can dry out and shrink, which causes it to loose the ability to seal.
Replacing the gasket yearly is recommended. Replacement parts are easy to find online and inexpensive.
The Vent Tube
The vent tube is usually located at the center of the lid.
The vent protrudes from the top of the lid. When you heat food in the cooker with the lid on, steam will escape from this vent.
It is important to keep the vent clean and free of clogs. Try looking through it when cleaning so it is ready for next time.
The pressure regulator, also known as a jiggle or toggle, sits on the vent tube.
The Pressure Regulator (Jiggle Top)
The pressure regulator is a weight valve that is engineered to produce around 15 pounds of pressure per square inch.
When you are ready to cook under pressure, you place the pressure regulator onto the vent tube. It is a separate piece from the cooker.
Any time the pressure reaches above 15 pounds of pressure per square inch, the pressure regulator will release steam. With the jiggle top variety, this steam release is best known as a whistle.
The Safety Valve
The safety valve is there to protect you. If the normal escape of steam is prevented due to blockage of the vent tube, or if there is insufficient water in the cooker, it could cause the pressure to build up to dangerous levels.
Should this occur, the valve contains a fusible alloy that melts to release steam and prevent an explosion.
The Grid Or Trivet
Some (not all) pressure cookers come with a trivet, also called a grid.
This acts as a riser to keep whole vegetables from touching the bottom of the pot. The riser allows you to put water into the pot, but to keep the water separate from your food. The water creates steam and pressure, and helps the food to cook.
The trivet also allow the cook to use an insert to cook inside the pressure cooker.
Insert Or Separator
Metal inserts, also known as separators, are used to cook multiple food items at once.
You could cook lentil dal in the bottom dish, and rice in the top dish.
This is super handy if you are cooking for yourself, or for a small number of people. You can also use this method to reheat food.
In this case, the stacked inserts came with a wire holder to make it easier to remove from the pressure cooker.
RECOMMENDED: Best Stovetop Pressure Cookers to Buy: Presto, Prestige, Hawkins, Fissler
2. Using Your Jiggle Top Pressure Cooker
Pressure cookers are great for cooking pulses, such as beans and lentils, whole grains, and vegetables. Cooking times are cut in half or even less.
When cooking beans and lentils, which can foam, never fill the cooker more than half full. When cooking other items, you can fill the cooker up to three-quarters full.
After you add the food and water, seal the lid, but leave the pressure regulator off.
Turn the heat to high. Once steam begins to shoot out of the steam vent, put the pressure regulator on.
Doing it like this is a pressure cooker safety precaution, so that you know the steam is releasing properly from the vent tube, and nothing is blocked.
When the jiggle top pressure cooker reaches “high pressure,” the pressure regulator (toggle) will whistle to release steam. This is how you know you have reached high pressure.Pressure cookers are great for cooking pulses, whole grains, and vegetables. Cooking times are cut at least in half.Click To Tweet
After the first whistle, turn down the temperature to medium and continue to cook for the amount of time determined by the recipe. Most recipes will let you know how long to cook under pressure.
During the cooking time, the pressure gauge should continue to jiggle and/or make a low hissing sound. This is how you know you are still at high pressure.
Electric pressure cookers will automatically maintain pressure, and some higher end stovetop pressure cookers will have a gauge to show you the pressure level.
In the United States 15 psi is the standard temperature, but a jiggle top cooker will be variable, and the Instant Pot is lower, around 11 psi.
So keep this in mind when reading recipes. You may want to increase the cooking time slightly to compensate, but it is not a safety issue.
If you turn down the temperature too much, and the jiggle top is still and quiet, simply turn the heat back up a little. If you catch it early, no worries. Otherwise, you can add a bit to the cooking time.
You may hear more whistles during the cooking time, and that is perfectly fine. In India, they actually measure cooking time based on the number of whistles. I find it easier and more consistent to use cooking time.
Finally, say you finish cooking, and the food is not cooked enough. It is no problem. Just put the lid back on, bring it back up to pressure, and your first whistle. Turn down the heat, and cook for a few more minutes.
3. Safely Removing The Lid
After the desired number of minutes of cooking time has elapsed, turn off the heat.
At this point, you can either let the pressure come down naturally, or you can force it to come down.
It takes about 10–15 minutes (or more for larger quantities), for the pressure to come down naturally.
If I am in a rush, I often wait about 10 minutes and then force the release of the remaining steam (described below). There usually isn’t much pressure left at this point.
Natural pressure release works great for pulses (lentils, beans, and peas), as the pulses continue to gently cook as the pressure comes down.
Remember, food continues to cook, even after the heat is turned off. This can also work for whole grains. But it can be a disaster for vegetables, causing them to overcook, so use your judgement.
You know it is safe to open the lid when the pressure regulator no longer releases steam when you jar it.
To test if it's ready, use a utensil to create distance between your hand and the toggle so you don't get burned just in case hot steam does release.
Once the pressure is down, it is safe to remove the lid.
If you want to force the pressure down because you are in a hurry, or you have some vegetables you fear will overcook if you leave it to cool naturally, or you are concerned you left your food under pressure for too long and you want to stop the cooking right away, there are two ways:
The first is to jar the toggle (with a long spoon) and release steam until it is all gone. This will give your kitchen a steam bath.
The second way is to pick up the pot and tilt it 45 degrees away from you (so the steam and water doesn’t hurt you), and run cold water over the top of the lid.
Test the toggle after a few minutes. Keep testing until no steam escapes.
When no steam releases from the toggle you can safely open the lid.
4. Pressure Cooker Safety Tips
Today’s pressure cookers are loaded with safety features. When you follow the recommended instructions, you should never have a problem using one.
Your biggest mishap could be burning yourself with steam from the toggle (which has never happened to me), or opening the lid when there is still a little pressure in the pot. (This has also never happened to me).
Practice a normal amount of caution around the steam. It is just like draining pasta into a colander. Pour away from you to protect yourself from steam burns.
Before opening any pressure cooker lid, always check the toggle to make sure there is no steam.
Even if you released the steam 30 seconds before opening the lid, check it again right before opening it, because the hot liquid inside can make steam build up again.
If the lid feels difficult to release, it could indicate that there is pressure.
Check for steam before ever forcing the lid open.
Also, be sure to turn down the heat after the pot whistles.
Actually, I didn’t know to do this for the longest time, so I have not turned down the heat hundreds of times and it hasn’t been a problem.
My husband tells me that in India, they do not turn down the heat.
My guess is that the intensity of the heat sources in most Indian kitchens do not reach the intensity of what we have in America.
The Safety Valve Is There To Protect You
Nonetheless, just in case things do get overheated, there is a safety valve in all pressure cookers to protect you. The safety valve will melt and open a release for the steam before anything explodes.
The valve contains an alloy in its center that is designed to melt at a specific pressure and temperature.
It will melt if the normal escape of steam through the toggle (pressure regulator) becomes blocked, or if the water fully evaporates from the cooker, causing the temperature to increase abnormally.
Always be sure to have water in the pressure cooker, and/or to time your cooking so the heat is off when the water fully evaporates, such as with cooking grains.
If the safety valve does melt, you will know it, and it must be replaced. The parts are easily available online.
I hope you never have to replace your safety valve. However, it is there to protect you, so if you are replacing it, it must have done its job.
Another important pressure cooker safety point to avoid potential trouble is to keep the steam vent in the center of the lid clean.
This is the peg that holds your pressure regulator.
Check it regularly. You should be able to see through it from back to front.
There are also little holes around the edges of the steam vent on the bottom side of the lid. Use a brush to clean the area thoroughly and keep it free of residue.
How Do I Cook Food In A Pressure Cooker?
Cooking food is easy in a pressure cooker once you master the basics.
Aside from the details below, I should let you know that a pressure cooker also makes a great steamer.
Just use the pot with the lid on, but without the pressure regulator attached.
Steam will then escape through the steam vent.
I believe this steaming method is better than steaming in a regular pot, because there is a small amount of pressure created by the gasket seal on the lid, and the very small steam vent opening.
How To Pressure Cook Beans, Peas, And Lentils
Do not fill your pressure cooker more than half full when cooking beans, peas, and lentils. This ensures that there is enough space for the beans to foam up, which pulses will do.
Actually foaming can be a problem with jiggle type cookers. You would see that when the cooker whistles, steam and liquid is pushed through the steam vent, which then falls down over the sides of the pot. (Don't worry as it won't spray up.)
It happens, and it is messy, but there are ways to avoid it.
To avoid this, try adding a tablespoon of oil to the beans before putting on the lid. This film of oil will help to keep down the foaming.
Foaming also happens more if you didn’t have time to soak your beans before cooking.
Not soaking your beans first means that more water-soluble, gas-producing sugars, will be released during the cooking process. (Gases are released into the water and drained off when soaked).
In general, foaming is not a problem. While it can be messy, you will still be able to complete your cooking. Just be sure to carefully clean the lid after use to ensure the vent isn’t clogged the next time you use it.
How To Cook Vegetables
I have not experimented much with cooking only vegetables in my pressure cooker.
However, it is a great method for vegetables such as whole beets or carrots. Pressure cooking preserves nutrition better than boiling or steaming because nothing escapes the pot.
Actually, when you cook vegetables under pressure, you are basically high-pressure steaming.
The way to do it is to place a metal steamer into the pot, or use a metal trivet placed inside to the cooker to suspend the vegetables off the bottom of the pot.
You must then add water: A rule of thumb is one cup for every 10 minutes of cooking, and an additional ½ cup for each additional 10 minutes.
Do not try pressure cooking without adding water!!!
It won’t work, and it can be dangerous, unless you have an second generation cooker designed specifically to handle it.
Still have questions? Write them in the comments below. Please also share your experiences using pressure cookers. I would love to hear your stories about how this tool has made your life easier.
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