Operating Your Pressure Cooker
The pressure cooker you can purchase today and the one sitting on your grandmother's kitchen counter for the last 25 years are two very different appliances. Newer pressure cookers can be made for the stovetop or electric range, and can vary in capacity from a few quarts to over ten.
Depending on which route you're going, old school or new, the instructions for operating your pressure cooker may vary. The manual that came with your pressure cooker will be the best resource on how to operate it, but there are some useful tips that can be applied to all pressure cookers.
Large pressure cookers with the capacity to hold jars used in home canning are called pressure canners. Laboratories and hospitals sterilize materials using a type of pressure cooker known as an autoclave. Pressure cookers used in the food industry are often referred to as retorts.
Don't Ignore Liquid Recommendations
Some pressure cookers come complete with recommendations for the minimum and maximum amount of liquid that should be used in the appliance. This warning should not be ignored. Using too little liquid may result in burnt food and the inability to build pressure properly, while too much will result in longer cook times.
In addition to not adding too much liquid, you should be sure to never overfill your pressure cooker. A general rule is that half full is the maximum for liquids and two-thirds full is the maximum for all other foods.
Gone are the days of “exploding” pressure cookers, because today's models come equipped with built-in safety features. One common feature is that you cannot remove the lid until all pressure has been released, but if you are using a vintage model be sure to use extra caution. Others have release valves that allow for the escape of excess pressure when needed. Even with these features in place to protect, you should never leave a pressure cooker unattended. Stand guard while it's in use.
The cold water release method isn't suggested in any of the recipes in this book; however, if you find that your pressure cooker retains too much heat after the quick-release method when you prepare foods that only require a short cooking time — like certain vegetables, risotto, or polenta — try using the cold water release method the next time you prepare that food.
Pressure Release Methods
There are three methods used to release pressure from a cooker — natural, quick, and cold water — and choosing the right method for each recipe is an important part of using a pressure cooker. The natural-release method will help retain the most nutrients, but takes longer than other methods. Food continues to slowly cook during the release time, so it is not appropriate for all recipes. Use this method for tougher, denser items, or those that will be enhanced with a longer cook time.
If you need to release pressure rapidly because of a delicate ingredient or the need to add more ingredients, use the quick-release method. Depending on your model of pressure cooker, there will be a knob or a button for the quick-release method. Finally, the cold water method is used when you need to release pressure and reduce heat quickly. As the name implies, you do this by running cold water over the pressure cooker.