For super-quick, fuss-free meals, you cannot beat the pressure cooker. They cook food in a fraction of the time required with conventional cooking. We're talking pot roast in less than an hour!
Pressure cookers are zooming back into popularity. But these days, they come with improved safety features, including redundant pressure release valves. So no more eruptions. A sealing ring helps create an air-tight seal that won’t allow steam to escape unless you press the safety valve or regulator. Even so, take care not to overfill the pot on a pressure cooker. You are, after all, dealing with contents under pressure.
Types of Pressure Cookers
There are two types of pressure cookers. Stove-top pressure cookers and electric pressure cookers. Regardless of which type you buy, the pressure cooker should be able to endure at least 15 psi (pounds of pressure per square inch).
Stove-Top Pressure Cookers
With stove-top pressure cookers, you control the heat just like a regular pot on the stove. Look for stainless-steel cookers. Aluminum pressure cookers are less expensive, but also less durable, and the aluminum can react to acidic foods.
Electric Pressure Cookers
Electric pressure cookers come with programmable features for cooking times and settings for different cooking functions (browning, simmering, sautéing, and warming). Top-of-the-line models double as yogurt makers, rice cookers, even slow cookers. One advantage of an electric pressure cooker is that they don’t take up stove space, which makes them handy when you’re cooking a big meal.
Pressure Cooker Features To Consider:
- A cover-locking safety system that prevents pressure from building up in the pot if the lid is not secured correctly; the safety system also prevents the lid from being lifted if the pot is still under pressure.
- A lid with a quick-release valve to quickly release vapor from the pressure cooker.
- Steam baskets (with dividers), for cooking additional foods at once.
- A pressure indicator, which tells you if contents are still pressurized (some models have pressure gauges).
What can you cook in a pressure cooker?
Can I fry food in the pressure cooker?
No. Because pressure cooking requires steam, and therefore liquid, a pressure cooker does not work for frying or roasting foods.
How does the pressure cooker work?
A pressure cooker combines food with a cooking liquid in a sealed compartment (the pot); as the liquid boils, steam is trapped inside the sealed, airtight pot; pressure builds and the temperature rises. At 15 psi, water boils at 250 degrees F (instead of 212 degrees F). At this higher temperature, under pressure, food cooks fast. In fact, food cooked in a pressure cooker is typically cooked in about one-third the time of conventional cooking.
Can you convert conventional (stovetop or oven) recipes to the pressure cooker?
It’s not always a straight-forward conversion. So you should seek out recipes specifically designed to work in a pressure cooker.
How big should my pressure cooker be?
For most meals, an 8 quart pressure cooker is enough. There are smaller pressure cookers -- a 4 quart is probably fine for singles or couples. If you’re cooking for a crowd, there are 12-quart contraptions and up from there.
Can you use your pressure cooker for canning?
Yes! For canning, you’ll want a larger pressure cooking, something in the vicinity of 12-quarts or larger.
Is the pressure cooker good for high altitude cooking?
Definitely. By definition, pressure cookers overcome the key drawback of cooking at elevation: low atmospheric pressure. At elevation, water boils at a lower temperature, which can make conventional cooking less efficient -- e.g., boiled foods are undercooked. That’s not a problem with a pressure cooker.
Can I leave my pressure cooker unattended while it's cooking?
Not a good idea. Unlike a slow cooker, which you can walk away from without worry, pressure cookers require something like parental supervision. After all, it’s contents under pressure. Plus, the food is ready fast.
What are the advantages to cooking with a pressure cooker?
- Food cooks super fast.
- Pressure cookers require less energy to cook food than conventional methods.
- The quick cooking and small amount of required liquid help retain vitamins and minerals.
- The high-temperature, quick cooking, and sealed environment help concentrate flavors.
What are the disadvantages to buying a pressure cooker?
- They’re more expensive than regular pots and pans.
- Cleaning a pressure cooker requires more care than regular pots and pans.
- The sealing rings will need occasional replacement to ensure the lid seals completely.