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.