What Is Pressure Cooking and How Does It Work?

Cooking Under Pressure Has Never Been Easier

Carole Howell
What Is Pressure Cooking and What Does It Do

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What is a pressure cooker? And how it work? We’ll give you a short primer on this re-discovered kitchen appliance that cooks delicious food faster than ever.

Michael Rushlow, a graphic artist who lives in Santa Monica, California, is a self-described PC fanatic. He owns three different types and sometimes uses all three at once.

“It seemed like pressure cooking was the way to do things,” says Rushlow. “I can have good food on a weeknight without having to get carry-out. It’s also helped my wife and me to eat a little healthier because the food is home cooked without additives.”

He enjoys taking traditional recipes, experimenting and adapting them to work in his pressure cookers. Now he shares his original recipes at pressurecookerconvert.com.

Benefits of Pressure Cooking

Pots and pans have their place, and slow cookers and microwaves have their purpose. But in our busy modern life, nothing beats a pressure cooker for what we call “fast cooking.” Here are three reasons why:

Eat Healthier

Studies show that vegetables cooked under pressure retain 90% of their vitamins, compared to those that are boiled or steamed. Plus, pressure uses only a fraction of the water of conventional methods, so vitamins do not leach into cooking water, which is usually discarded.

Today’s modern pressure cookers not only lock in nutrients, but also the superheated steam forces moisture into your food and intensifies the flavor (unless slow cookers which can dry food out).

Save Time

Another big benefit is time. Cook food up to 10 times faster! Depending on conventional cooking methods, a 3-pound chuck roast may need several hours to become fork-tender. Using a pressure cooker, that same entrée can be moist, tender, and ready to serve in under an hour. What’s more, a less expensive cut will taste as good or better than a pricey one. Clean up time is often reduced, as pressure cooking usually involves far fewer bowls, pots, and pans.

Save Money

The advantages of pressure cooking go beyond speed. Energy bills diminish as cook time is reduced. Electric models shut off automatically when cooking is done.

How a Pressure Cooker Works

Cooking under pressure is nothing new. Early cooks used stones to weigh down the lids of their pots because they knew that food cooked faster under pressure.

Today’s modern pressure cookers, whether stovetop models or electric, operate on the same principle: A pressure cooker is a pot with a tight-fitting lid, a rubber gasket to seal it, and a pressure regulator.

When the lid is on and heat is applied, air pressure rises, surrounding food with hot, trapped steam. The weighted regulator safely releases excess pressure during cooking to maintain the ideal 15 pounds per square inch of air pressure inside.

In a stovetop model, cooking begins with high heat until the pressure regulator begins to rock gently. Reduce the heat, adjusting so that the regulator continues to rock for the specified cooking time. For electric models, timing will begin once the cooker reaches pressure and automatically switches to a warming function when time is up.

Pressure Cooking Pointers

  • Pressure Cooker Conversion: Many pressure cooker users want to keep enjoying favorite recipes and need to know how to convert. In general, decrease cooking time by about two-thirds.

  • The size or density of meats can increase cooking time. Cut meats into smaller, equal size pieces for less cooking time.
  • Because there’s very little evaporation, you need only a fraction of the liquid you would use for conventional cooking. Water, broth, or wine all work well. For tender rice, pasta, and grains—foods that absorb water—a good rule of thumb is 1 cup dry ingredients to 2 cups liquid. For dry beans, most recipes recommend soaking beans before cooking.
  • To prevent messy overflow and reduce the risk of clogging the pressure release function of your PC, never fill it more than two-thirds full. Half full is ideal for foods that foam or expand.
  • To quick-release a stovetop pressure cooker, hold it under cold running water or place it in a sink full of cold water. Electric cookers feature a quick-release valve.
  • Most meat recipes recommends allowing the pressure cooker to cool on its own. If the recipe calls for a slow release, remove the cooker from the heat and allow it to cool for at least 15 minutes. Then, gently tap the regulator to be sure that all steam has been released and it’s safe to remove the lid. Never try to remove the lid on any PC until the steam is fully released.
  • Most PCs come with a cooking rack. Glass, metal, and heat-proof molds, such as custard cups and ramekins, can also be used inside. Fill molds two-thirds full to allow for food expansion and place them on the cooking rack with liquid added according to the recipe.

So, now you know what a pressure cooker is, how it generally works, and why it’s experiencing a revival.

Pressure Cooker Recipes

Now for the good stuff: See 5 delicious pressure cooker recipes!

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