COOKING MEALS the old-school way using slow, traditional methods is often considered the best way to reap max benefits from good ingredients. On a busy night when your plate is full (of seemingly all but food) efficiency is everything. Enter the pressure cooker: an airtight pot in which food can be cooked quickly under steam pressure. Once you learn how to use a pressure cooker it’s sure to become your new go-to in the modern kitchen.
We love these concise, fool-proof tips from the master of modern homemaking herself, Martha Stewart. When learning how to use a pressure cooker, a little know-how can go a long way, and who better to learn from than Martha? Her latest cookbook is devoted to the topic and her opening list of tips include everything you need to know…
How To Use A Pressure Cooker
Whether you choose a high-tech multi-use appliance or basic stovetop version, mastering pressure cooking requires a bit of practice involving at least a few trials (and the occasional error). Here is our recipe developers’ best advice for making the most of your machine — and avoiding the most common pitfalls.
For the sake of storage, it might be tempting to seek out a petite pressure cooker — cookers come as small as three quarts. But the recipes in this book are designed for six- to eight-quart models and we don’t recommend going any smaller. A tiny cooker just doesn’t make much practical sense, especially because the pot should only be partially filled for safety reasons. Go for a big pressure cooker instead.
After purchasing any new kitchen gadget it’s hard to resist the urge to run home and start playing with it immediately, barely glancing at the manual in the process. But in this case, studying the instructions is especially crucial as every cooker works differently. Become familiar with the ins and outs of your machine before you start using — because if you don’t, you’re more likely to end up with scorched food and spent patience.
Test The Waters
A great way to become familiar with your pressure cooker is to take it for a trial run with four cups of plain water. This simple introduction will offer hands-on experience with the machine’s features — and without the risk of ruining dinner. By measuring the water before and after, you’ll be able to determine how much evaporation occurs during cooking. Some pots lose no water at all, while others lose a considerable amount. The recipes we offer provide a range for water to accommodate both stovetop (which generally requires more water) and electric pressure cookers.
Begin With Beans
Once you’ve taken your pot through a not-so-dry run with water, you’re ready to start pressure-cooking in earnest. We recommend beginning with a batch of beans. They will familiarize yourself with your machine and without a lot of expense. (In other words, if you have to start over, it’s not the end of the world.) Keep in mind: Beans all cook differently depending on type, size and age. So if the pintos or garbanzos turn out tough, continue to simmer. One note: Our recipe developers found that beans had the best texture when allowed to rest in their cooking liquid for an additional thirty minutes, after venting pressure and removing the lid.
Cut To Size
Those who know their way around the kitchen recognize the importance of chopping ingredients into similarly sized pieces so they cook at the same rate. When that rate is accelerated, as with pressure cooking, uniformity is all the more important. Also, avoid chopping vegetables too small or too large. A too small morsel can very quickly turn to mush, while an overly large piece might emerge tough or undercooked.
Beware: A packed-to-the-brim pressure cooker will spill over quite dramatically when pressure is released. In this situation, food particles also tend to escape through the steam vent, causing clogs. A good rule of thumb: Fill the pot to a maximum of one-half capacity for ingredients with a tendency to produce foam and two-thirds capacity for everything else. With beans, we found that adding a tablespoon of oil to the cooking water cut down on foaming. Even so, when cooking a potentially foamy ingredient (think oatmeal and just about any other grain, as well as beans), it’s smart to lightly cover the vent with a clean kitchen towel to avoid a mess when releasing steam.
Inexpensive add-ons like steaming baskets, racks, ramekins and cake pans will greatly increase your cooker’s utility. Many models come with a few accessories but others you probably already own. It’s not necessary that they be designed expressly for pressure cooking, as long as they’re heatproof and fit comfortably inside your pot (this means 7-inch cake pans, for example). You can even create your own foil sling, a tool that proves very useful when lifting a cooked dish (like flan) out of the pressure cooker. To make a sling: Fold one 20-inch length of aluminum foil lengthwise in three. Place the pan over the foil sling and transfer to the pressure cooker, holding the sling in place. Fold tops of the sling down, if necessary, to avoid interfering with the cooker’s lid. (Note: We use the sling primarily for desserts.)
Think of the pressure cooker as the ultimate tenderizer. Transforming tough cuts of meat (think pork shoulder, brisket and short ribs) into succulent, fork-tender dinners is where the machine truly excels. The same logic holds for root vegetables and even dried beans. Many cooks prefer to prepare quick-simmering legumes in a pressure cooker (such as the lentils used in Indian dal). While the cooker doesn’t shave much time off in this case, it does deliver incomparable creaminess.
Use Common Sense
Practically any food can be pressure cooked, but sometimes doing so doesn’t actually save time or improve flavor or texture. Tender, fast-cooking vegetables (like fresh green beans or spinach) can generally be sautéed or blanched quickly and easily. The same can be said about delicate fish. And know that the pressure cooker just doesn’t do crunchy well — dishes like gratins and whole chickens are better cooked in a good old-fashioned oven, where they’ll crisp up nicely.
Safety First (And Last)
Though faulty cookers shouldn’t be an issue, there are a few simple safety tips to follow: After the pot comes to pressure, release the vent away from your hands and face to let the hot steam escape. And when removing the lid, open away from you. All pressure will have been released but residual steam will still escape. You can use a clean kitchen towel to release the steam vent or remove the lid, if you like. And again, keep the towel handy when cooking grains and beans, to lightly cover the vent when releasing steam.
Recipes and photographs reprinted from Martha Stewart’s Pressure Cooker: 100+ Fabulous New Recipes for the Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot®. Copyright © 2018 by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Photographs by Marcus Nilsson. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.