Using Pressure Cookers

Pressure Cookers

Practically anything that is cooked in liquid can be cooked faster in a pressure cooker. A special, airtight, locking lid makes a pressure cooker different form an ordinary pot. The lid forces pressure to build inside the pot as the liquid inside comes to a boil. The trapped steam causes the internal temperature to rise beyond what it would be capable of under normal pressure, decreasing cooking times by two-thirds or more. The increased pressure also softens the fibers in foods, which makes pressure cookers ideal for cooking tough cuts of meat. While early-model pressure cookers sometimes exploded under pressure and were considered dangerous by some cooks, current second-generation pressure cooker designs include safety features that make such explosions next to impossible.

To choose, buy a pressure cooker that has a minimum 6-quart capacity. Since safety precautions demand that pressure cookers never be completely filled, anything smaller will be too limiting. When using, never fill the cooker to more than one-half to two-thirds of its capacity, depending on the design of the cooker and the type of food you're preparing. Most cookers have maximum-fill lines marked inside the pot.

In general, pressure-cooked foods will cook in one-quarter to one-third of the time that it would take using a conventional cooking method. Reduce the amount of liquid by 20 to 40 percent to compensate for the lack of moisture evaporation in a pressure cooker. Also, look in the pressure cooker's instruction booklet for a similar recipe that will give you general cooking guidelines.

Once you've combined the ingredients inside the pot, seal it by locking on the lid. Set the pot over high heat to bring it up to pressure as quickly as possible. Once the desired pressure level is reached, reduce the heat to maintain the pressure without increasing it or letting it drop. Begin calculating the cooking time at the moment that the pot reaches high pressure. Once the timer goes off, reduce the pressure completely before removing the lid. To speed the time it takes for the cooker to reach high pressure, boil any liquid before adding it to the pot.

In order to prevent overcooking tender foods like chicken and vegetables, quickly release pressure by holding the pressure valve down with a long-handled spoon until all of the pressure has been released. Then, move the cooker to the sink and let cold water run down one side of the cover. Tilt the pot slightly to keep the water running away from the pressure vents or regulator.

To release pressure naturally, remove the pot from the heat and let the pressure drop of its own accord. Use this pressure-release technique for foods such as beans and potatoes, and for other foods that have a skin that you wish to keep intact. Also use it when cooking beef, which will toughen when pressure is released too quickly, and to preserve the creamy texture of puddings.

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