Pressure cookers don’t have to be scary if you take the time to understand how they work and how to use them. You will find the pressure cooker to be a quick method of cooking that preserves nutrients. A pressure cooker reduces cooking time by 50% or more when compared to conventional cooking techniques. It allows you to use tougher less expensive cuts of meat because pressure cooking tenderizes the meat.
How does pressure cooking do all this? The pressure cooker is a sealed pot in which pressure builds and is maintained between 5 and 15 pounds per square inch (PSI). This pressure results in food being cooked at around 250°F as opposed to the normal boiling point of water 212°F. The elevated temperature converts liquid to steam which cooks the food from three to ten times faster than conventional cooking. Very little moisture is lost so less liquid is needed in the cooking process, resulting in concentrated flavor and retained nutrients.
It is important to follow all the manufacturer’s directions that come with your pressure cooker. Never fill the cooker more than two-thirds full, no more than half-full for soups and stews. Recipes with fewer than five main ingredients tend to work better. Also look for recipes that have quick preparation time and long cooking times for use in the pressure cooker. Slice foods so that they are equal size or cooking times.
Hot foods and liquids will come to pressure more quickly than cold ones. This is the reason for browning meats before putting them in the pressure cooker. The browning raises the meat temperature. Browning also intensifies the flavor of the meat as well as onions, leeks, and garlic.
Add at least 1 cup of liquid to foods that will pressure cook for 45 minutes or less; 1 1⁄2 cups for foods that will cook longer.
Foods cook quickly in the pressure cooker, so precise timing is important to avoid overcooking. The cooking time is measured from the point at which the correct level of pressure is reached. Use high heat to bring the pressure cooker up to pressure, and then reduce the heat to maintain a slow, steady level. When the specified cooking time is complete, reduce pressure in the cooker according to the directions in the recipe.
Safety is a major concern when using a pressure cooker. You must always monitor the complete cooking process, especially when operating a pressure cooker near children. Inspect the pressure cooker before each use to make sure it is in good working condition. Never open the unit until it has cooled and all the internal pressure has been released. Parts sometimes wear out. Usually replacement parts can be ordered from the manufacturer.
A few foods to avoid in the pressure cooker: applesauce, cranberries, rhubarb, cereals, pasta, and dried soup mixes are not recommended. These foods expand so much as a result of foaming and frothing that they should not be cooked under pressure.
With some practice and diligence, the pressure cooker can become a useful took in your kitchen, and you can avoid creating your own pressure cooker horror story!
The recipes in this column are featured in booklet entitled “Cooking with a Pressure Cooker” developed by Cindy Schlenker Davies, Home Economist with the Bernalillo County Extension Service in Albuquerque, NM.
2 1⁄2-3 pound chicken pieces
2 teaspoons salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
6 tablespoons flour
1⁄4 cup fat
4 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 cups sour cream
Mix salt, pepper, paprika, and flour. Coat the chicken pieces. Brown in hot fat in the pressure cooker. Place the chicken on a rack made to fit the cooker and place it in the cooker. Slowly add the water and bouillon cubes. Cover the cooker, set the control to 15 PSI and cook for 15 minutes after control jiggles. Cool cooker normally for 5 minutes, then place it in the sink and run cold water over the cooker. Once pressure is released, remove the lid. Stir in the sour cream and heat through. Serves 8-10.
Beef Pot Roast
4 pounds beef roast, 2-3 inches thick
2 tablespoons fat or oil
1 tablespoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
4 medium onions, sliced
2 1⁄2 cups water
Brown beef in fat in cooker. Season with salt and pepper. Add onions and water. Cover and set control at 15 PSI and cook 45-60 minutes after control jiggles. Cool cooker normally for 5 minutes, then place it in the sink and run cold water over the cooker. Once pressure is released, remove the lid.
Gravy: Take 2 cups liquid from the cooked meat, 1⁄4 cup flour and 1⁄2 cup cold water. Skim the excess fat from broth and place it in a saucepan. Mix the flour and cold water together until smooth. Add mixture into the broth and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until gravy is smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 6-8.
Three Minute Veggie Plate
1 cup water
1 large cauliflower, broken into large florets
1 pound green beans, cut in half
8 medium carrots, quartered and cut lengthwise
1 large bunch broccoli, stems cut into quarters
1 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons browned butter
Place water in the pressure cooker and place the rack in the cooker. Place the vegetables on the rack and season with the salt. Cover and set the control at 15 PSI and cook 3-4 minutes after the control jiggles. Reduce pressure by removing from heat and letting cool for 5 minutes, then place in the sink and run cold water over the cooker. Once pressure is released, remove the lid. Arrange vegetables on a large serving plate. Serve with hot browned butter. Serves 8.
For more information, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269.
Information for this article obtained from entitled “Cooking with a Pressure Cooker” developed by Cindy Schlenker Davies, Home Economist with the Bernalillo County Extension Service in Albuquerque, NM, and “Meals in Minutes using a Pressure Cooker” developed by Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service.
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