Using a pressure cooker
A pressure cooker is a great addition to your kitchen arsenal, allowing for quick and nutritious cooking. They can be a little intimidating at first, but it's worth taking the time to get to grips with it, as you'll be rewarded with tasty soups, stews and more in no time at all.
In this guide we answer some key questions about using pressure cookers, including how to use them safely and get the best results.
How do pressure cookers work?
Pressure cookers have been around for centuries, and their basic function hasn’t really changed. They essentially use a build-up of steam and pressure to raise the temperature in a sealed pot above boiling point, which cooks food more quickly than traditional methods.
How do you use a pressure cooker?
It can vary slightly depending on which model you’ve bought, and you should always read the instructions thoroughly, but there are some general principles to follow when using your pressure cooker:
1. Add your ingredients. You can brown meat or vegetables first if your electric pressure cooker has a sauté function, or in your stove-top pressure cooker with the lid off.
2. Raise the heat to build pressure. On a stove-top pressure cooker you do this by fitting the lid and turning up the heat on your stove to the maximum, but electric pressure cookers do this automatically by triggering their built-in heating element. Make sure the valve is closed so steam can’t escape.
3. Once pressure is reached, turn the heat down to the minimum (electric pressure cookers will do this automatically). You’ll then need to manually keep track of cooking time, unless your appliance has a built-in timer.
4. When time is up, release the pressure. You usually do this turning off the heat and letting the pan gradually cool down, or by opening a valve. On some stove-top models you can use cold water – either run it over the lid or sit the pan in a sink of cold water. After the pressure has released, you can open the lid and serve your food.
Top tips for pressure cooking
- Never fill the pot higher than the recommended level. For most models this is half or two thirds full. Otherwise there won't be enough space for pressure to build and you could get food escaping through the vents.
- Don't skimp on the liquid. This is essential for the cooking process. Check your cooker instructions for the minimum amount required.
- Brown food first for extra flavour.
- If cooking on an electric hob, be aware that the heat change isn't instant, so you might want to switch to a different hob for the low-heat setting, or twist the dial a few minutes earlier than specified.
- Cooking times are from the moment pressure is reached. Some models take up to 10 minutes to reach pressure.
- Look after the rubber seal and replace it if it looks worn or the lid isn't locking properly. Keep the valves on the lid clean, too.
Are pressure cookers safe?
Pressure cookers have had negative press in the past, with stories of them exploding and throwing their contents across the kitchen. However, today’s models have built-in safety features to give you peace of mind while you’re cooking.
Most electric pressure cookers have a locking lid, so you won’t accidentally open it and release all the hot steam. You can also find models with more than one vent, so the heat is dissipated instead of coming out in one hot jet, and a second pressure release valve to work as a backup in case the main valve gets blocked or stuck. More advanced models have temperature sensors that trigger an auto shut-off in case something goes wrong.
Always read the safety information in your manual carefully before you start cooking, as this is your best protection against anything going wrong.
How does a pressure cooker save money?
Much like a slow cooker, a pressure cooker can save you money by taking cheap ingredients and transforming them into tasty meals. Unlike a slow cooker, though, you won’t have to cook for hours to inject flavour and tenderness into tougher cuts of meat and dried beans and pulses, so you can save on your grocery bills without having to wait ages for your food to be ready
Using a pressure cooker is also more energy efficient than stove-top or oven cooking, as food is cooked more quickly.
Is pressure cooking healthy?
Pressure cooking is really good at retaining nutrients, making it a great choice for those who want to eat healthily. As it uses less liquid than other methods (such as boiling), fewer nutrients are drawn out of the food and discarded with the water. The shorter cooking times also help to preserve nutrients in your meals.
Things to make in your pressure cooker
Any recipe with enough liquid can be made in your pressure cooker. From braising to stewing, boiling or steaming, pressure cookers can tackle a wide range of cooking jobs.
All pressure cookers are different, and you will need to play around with yours initially to find the best-tasting recipes. It’s best to start with the meals in the instruction manual and work from there. There are lots of suggestions and pressure cooker recipe communities online, too. Some of the most popular things to cook in your pressure cooker are:
- Meat or vegetable stews
- Rice or risotto dishes
- Tagines with beans or pulses
- Steamed vegetables
- Desserts (such as Christmas pudding)
Things that don't do so well in a pressure cooker are:
- Fresh herbs
If adding these, it's best to wait until near the end, after you've pressure-cooked your food.