A pressure cooker can be an amazing time saver. Food prepared in a pressure cooker is ready in about one-third the time of cooking on the stovetop or in the oven. Quick cooking also translates into less vitamin and mineral loss, so it's a snap to cook the hearty vegetables and beans that you might otherwise avoid.
How They Work
Pressure cookers work by forming an airtight seal, so when the liquid comes to a boil, pressure builds up. The trapped steam causes the temperature of the liquid to rise. Normally, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. With a pressure cooker, that temperature can be raised to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in much faster cooking.
Old-fashioned pressure cookers were a source of kitchen horror stories: Projectile lids flying through the air, ceilings spattered with what was meant to be dinner — not to mention the chugging and hissing noises that were constantly reminding you of the inherent dangers involved in this cooking method. The new generation of pressure cookers is a breed apart. Safety features found in all new pressure cookers include:
- Lids that must be locked before the pressure rises
- An expanding rubber gasket that makes it impossible to open the pot before the pressure has been released
- An over-pressure plug and/or back up vents
If you are going to own just one pressure cooker, we suggest you get a large one — about 6 quarts. You will only be filling it two thirds of the way at most, and only half full when cooking beans. Most recipes were developed in this size pot as it's the most versatile. Smaller pressure cookers are good for side dishes.
Familiarize yourself with the owner's manual for your pressure cooker — each brand is slightly different and they do take some getting used to.
Care and Storage
To protect your pressure cooker investment, wash it carefully, paying special attention to the rubber seal and the vent. When storing it, the lid should be placed upside down on top on the pot or set on the side.