How to Use a Pressure Cooker

Exploding pressure cookers are a thing of the past; today’s pressure cookers are a safe, efficient way to cook meals in minutes.

By Sara Gauchat
Pressure cookerfrytka/Getty Images

Can you use a conventional recipe with a pressure cooker?
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to convert a conventional recipe; you can’t prep your favorite dish, plop it into the pressure cooker, and expect it to be cooked perfectly and ready to eat in five minutes. But you can make adjustments, says Diane Phillips, the author of The Easy Pressure Cooker Cookbook ($27.50, amazon.com). “Use timing charts and compare your old tried-and-true recipe with a pressure-cooker recipe, paying close attention to the amount of ingredients and liquids,” she says. Conveniently, your cooker’s manual should also have pointers on adapting your recipes, and there are loads of cookbooks and websites just waiting to be perused.

What features should you look for when buying a pressure cooker?
There are two basic types of pressure cookers—stovetop and electric. The base of the stovetop versions can pull double-duty as a pasta pot, which is a nice two-in-one feature for smaller kitchens, Ritchie points out. But you do need to be in or near the kitchen while they’re cooking to monitor the heat and pressure. The electric versions can be programmed to take care of all the cooking themselves, so they can be left to their own devices (quite literally)—although they do take up more space and make a bigger footprint on your counter, Phillips says.

So first consider where your pressure cooker is going to live. Then choose the size you’ll need. Typically a family of four will use a four- to six-quart cooker, says Phillips. She also recommends looking for a three- to five-ply pot bottom for even heat, plus a stainless steel-lined interior (because aluminum will often pit inside from tomato-sauce acid). The bottom line? Figure out which cooker suits your kitchen, budget, and amount of storage space and go from there.

How do you clean a pressure cooker?
Happy news: “It’s no more complicated than cleaning a regular pot,” says Ritchie. And if you have an electric pressure cooker, some of the components may even be dishwasher-safe. The one important thing to remember is that you have to wash and dry the gasket from the lid by hand to ensure that it stays in tip-top condition.

What are some tips for getting the most out of your pressure cooker?
Pressure cookers tend to bleach colors out a bit, so brown your ingredients first to start with a deeper, richer color. And after a dish is done cooking, it might be a little too watery. Removing the lid and letting the sauce reduce slightly should help. Ritchie also suggests sticking with the high setting on your pressure cooker because most recipes fare better with it.

Phillips recommends using a flame tamer to distribute heat evenly if you’re using your cooker on a gas stove. When meal planning, she advises turning to ingredients you already have in your pantry, because you can cook from it pretty easily with a pressure cooker. “Think of the pressure cooker as the new microwave—but it’s not going to turn things into hockey pucks for you,” Phillips says.

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