Pressure Cooker Basics

March 12, 2012 § 15 Comments

And boy do I mean basics. I’m not a pressure-cooker expert—far from it. But I’m writing this because:

  1. My friend Katherine hinted that she’s always been a little uneasy using pressure cookers, and perhaps a Dainty tutorial was called for (um, Katherine, you’re a DOCTOR, and likely have had your hands elbow-deep IN people or delivered babies – my lord, if you can do that …)
  2. Pressure cookers are totally useful kitchen tools—they can cook some long-cooking bean or stew or hunk of meat in much less time. Who doesn’t need to shave some time off the cooking process without totally bailing and ordering take-out? If I can help spread pressure-cooker love to just one more person, then my mission is done (well, not done but I’d certainly feel good about it).
  3. I just pressure-cooked a pot of chickpeas, and since I need something to post about, why not this?

Again, I am sooo noooot a pressure-cooker expert. These are just some quick tips and bare-minimum suggestions from someone who was once afraid of the device and is now totally cool with its use.

Completely forget the stories your Mom or Grandma told you each summer … the story about their pressure cookers explosively losing their lids as their batch of homemade tomato sauce was being sealed and canned for winter. Sauce everywhere, they said, and you didn’t believe a word until Mom redid her kitchen and they moved the stove and found the tomato splatter evidence. THAT’S. NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN. Not nowadays. Not with a) today’s technology and b) today’s litigious society. A lid explodes, a child gets hurt … that can’t happen.

Spend the money. Buy a good, reputable brand. Jennifer bought a Kuhn-Rikon. It’s Swiss. And you know those Swiss.

Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker

Read the manual. Seriously, do it.

Get a specialty cookbook with pressure-cooker recipes. We have Pressure Perfect by Lorna Sass. It’s very useful.

The gasket is important. It fits in the inner lip of the lid and helps create a seal within which the air pressure can increase. A damaged gasket? A missing gasket? No seal.

Make a match. Most lids fit on the pressure cooker pot in a certain way and require a certain action. Ours requires that the arrow on the lid match with the arrow on the pot handle, and with those matched up, you then twist and lid into a LOCKED position. With the lid locked, it’s not going anywhere.

Twist the lid on.

It hisses. When the pressure inside the pot increases to a high level, it will start hissing. Putting my “I’m not an expert” hat on, I believe the hissing happens when the pressure inside is too great, and the hissing is the “I’m too pressurized!” value releasing the excess pressure. The hissing is also a noise that reminds you, “Oh, right, I gotta turn the temperature down now.”

Leave it be. When your beans or stew or whatnot is done, just turn the heat off and let the pressure come down naturally. There will be some sort of indicator on your lid that will tell you when that happens (more of an explanation below). The steam within the sealed pot is SUPER heated and can severely burn you. So, take your time opening the lid and always open the lid AWAY from you. IF YOU MUST open the lid soon, you can place the sealed pot under running water to help bring the temperature and the pressure down. Again, the indicator on the lid will tell you when they’ve come down.

By way of example, here’s a simple recipe for cooking dried beans of any kind, and we used chickpeas.

Basic Beans in Aromatic Broth (based on the Pressure Perfect recipe)

  • 1 lb. dried beans (in this case, chickpeas), rinsed and with bad beans removed
  • 9 cups water
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbs oil (helps prevent foaming)
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, leave skin on
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 large celery
  • Leek greens (if you have them)

-Add all ingredients in a 6-qt. or larger pressure cooker. Lock the lid according to your manual.

Everyone in the pool!

-Turn the heat on high and bring the pressure within the cooker to high. AS AN EXAMPLE, high pressure is indicated on our Kuhn-Rikon when two red bars appear.

The two red bars indicate high pressure has been reached.

-Turn heat down so it’s just hot enough to maintain the pressure at high. In our case, we turn our gas from high down to just between “2” and “lo.” That works perfectly.

-Maintain high heat for the number of minutes indicated in your pressure cooker book for that specific bean. For chickpeas, that would be 28-30 minutes for a firm bean (for stews and such) and up to 35 for a softer chickpea that would be used in purees such as hummus.

-When the timer goes off, you can let the pressure come down naturally (15-20 minutes or so) or put it under cool running water until the pressure comes down. TILT the lid away from you no matter what. You gotta be careful.

Chickpeas in their broth after about 28 minutes at high pressure followed by about 20 minutes on a natural cool-down.

-Try a few. Too firm? Hard, in fact? Put the lid in place, lock it, and bring it up to pressure again for between 1-5 minutes, depending on how firm you think they are. Go through the same depressurizing process.

-Look at that! You made beans!!

-Lorna suggests that if you have the time, let the beans cool in their liquid. That way they will complete the cooking process. Meanwhile, remove the carrot, celery, bay leaves and garlic, and discard.

-When you are ready to drain, you should totally reserve that cooking liquid. It’s ideal as a water or veggie stock replacement in soups or stews. So, put a colander over a bowl to catch the brothy goodness.

Reserve the tasty liquid and use it as a replacement for water or stock in soups and stews.

Still on the fence about using a pressure cooker? Leave a comment below and let me know where you stand!

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§ 15 Responses to Pressure Cooker Basics

  • Karen Altree Piemme says:

    For those of you who are inclined toward vegetarian/veganism…
    There is a great cookbook called “Pressure Cooking the Meatless Way” by Maureen B. Keane and Daniella Chace.

  • Katherine says:

    Wow, I’m famous. BTW I did buy online a “healthy pressure cooker” cookbook and lo and behold every single recipe had at least one “brand” processed food ingredient such as VELVEETA. Also the first time I used my PC I burned whatever it was (?not enough liquid?). So basically I am traumatized but willing to give it another try with your wonderful hand holding advice. Chick pease on earth good will to legumen.

    • Mmmmm … Velveeta. Not. I totally suggest starting with beans. One interesting piece I left out of the original post (silly me) is that when I drained my beans I ended up with 6 cups of broth. So, rest assured you will not end up burning these beans. Do you have a pressure cooker?

  • Ellen and Katherine,

    I stumbled on your post during a web search. I highly recommend taking your pressure cooker through the “Beginner Basics” pressure cooking course. It’s free.. and it’s written by an expert. ; )

    http://www.hippressurecooking.com/2010/12/beginner-basics-learn-to-pressure-cook.html

    Yes, the hissing means that the valve has gone into over-pressure – this is a safety feature to prevent your cooker from reaching too much pressure! However, should that fail (or not release enough pressure) the gasket will dislodge and additional pressure will be released through the vents on the side of the lid (the contents and liquid may come out as well). So, ALWAYS keep a careful eye on your pressure cooker while you’re building pressure, please!!!

    Ciao,

    L

    P.S. No cans, packages, or granules in my recipes – except for tomatoes in the winter and the errant Tuna can (Italians LOVE it!!).

  • I also would like to add, that I don’t use processed products in my book. And if you want to see me work some pressure cooker magic, please check out my You Tube posts at http://www.youtube.com/TheVQ.

    Laura’s beginner basics is wonderful for starting off.

    I like people to make stock for their first pressure cooker recipe. It’s pretty fool proof and you can’t burn anything.

  • I always soak garbanzo beans overnight, rinse, cover with fresh water and pressure cook on high for 20 minutes. Perfect!

  • […] a package of firm tofu and some leftover chickpea broth (remember that from Pressure Cooker Basics?), I twisted Mark Bittman’s own Asian twist on brothy […]

  • Today’s pressure cookers are great! Old models were unsafe because technology was just not advanced enough, but modern ones are equipped with safety functions that make them not only efficient kitchen gadgets, but also safe.

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