Pressure cookers are designed to make short work of slow cook dishes. They’re economical both in the amount of power they use and are also ideal for tenderising cheaper cuts of meat. They can reduce cooking times by up to 50% and retain nutrients well, making them a healthy cooking method. If you’ve never used one before, then this is a great place to start.
First buy your pressure cooker
You can pick up a pressure cooker for as little as £30 (or as much as several hundred pounds) but price doesn't always equate to quality. Read our product review of the best pressure cookers to discover the best models on the market.
1. Read the instructions
Modern pressure cookers have a number of safety features and this is for good reason. The heat generated by the steam could easily scold if not handled properly. Follow the instructions for your specific model and you won’t need to worry about this.
2. Check your kit
It’s important to keep your pressure cooker clean and in good working order. Replacements for worn out parts are usually readily available from suppliers. For example you might find yourself needing to replace the rubber gasket that ensures a good seal. Making sure the valves are free from debris is key too.
3. Brown it
Pressure cooked food doesn’t brown so it’s worth doing this at the start of cooking before adding liquid and putting the lid on. Meat looks and tastes more appetising with a little browning. Onions, garlic and spices also benefit in the flavour stakes from pre-cooking. However if you’re rushed, and time is more important to you than these nuances, dispensing with this step is possible.
4. Liquid matters
Pressure cookers cook with steam. No liquid = no steam. You can’t and shouldn’t use your pressure cooker unless you’ve added sufficient liquid. Instructions will let you know the minimum amount and some even tell you how much to use for different items. If you’re using a conventional recipe you can often reduce liquid content that would otherwise have evaporated but don’t go below the recommended amount.
5. Don’t overfill it
Most, if not all, pressure cookers have a minimum and maximum mark on the inside of the pot. Do not exceed these. A pressure cooker shouldn’t be more than 2/3rds full. With liquids, avoid filling more than half full. Overfilling leads to food being ejected from the pressure release valve – a messy business. If this does happen, you’ll need to take apart and clean the parts thoroughly. You also need room in the pot for the steam to build up to facilitate cooking.
- Liquid foods, including soup and casserole – no more than ½ full including liquid
- Vegetables and joints of meat – no more than 2/3rds full including liquid
- Foods which may froth or expand, including cereals, pulses, rice and pasta – no more than 1/3 full
6. Heat it right
Turn your hob up to full power so that the pressure cooking process can begin as soon as possible. If you take too long heating foods up, they can end up being overcooked and suggested timings will be incorrect. Recipes will tell you to start cooking from when the correct pressure has been reached. When you get to this point, turn the heat right down to the minimum temperature you can while still maintaining pressure. All pressure cookers have a simple indicator and your instructions will tell you how to read yours.
Gas and induction make it easy to turn the heat down. Electric tend to retain heat so it can be worth having two hobs on – one on the high heat and one on the lower heat and then switching when pressure is reached.
7. Time it, check it, don’t spoil it
Cooking times in standard recipes are a good indicator for estimating time needed in a pressure cooker. Meats that take time to tenderise and large pieces of meat are going to take longer. Whole pulses will need longer than split peas, brown rice longer than white. Vegetables and fish take very little time at all. Cooking time may be as much as halved.
Cutting similar types of ingredients to similar sizes will help them to cook evenly. Add items that will need a longer cooking time at the beginning and those that need less later on (making sure steam has been safely released in the process). For example, for a beef stew add the beef at the beginning and potatoes half way through to avoid them crumbling.
If you’re not sure on cooking times, undercook rather than overcook. You can always bring the food back under pressure and continue but once it’s spoilt it’s spoilt! Add more liquid if necessary.
8. Releasing the pressure
There are usually three ways to release steam in your pressure cooker: a) taking it off the heat and allowing it to release in its own time b) turning a pressure release valve – use oven gloves for this as hot steam will rush out, and c) running the pressure cooker under a cold tap. The first option is ideal for dishes like casseroles where long cooking times would be involved. The second option is suitable for any dishes that aren’t delicate and the third those that are, like fish and vegetables where overcooking may occur. These last two options save time.
Never force the lid open, modern cookers have a safety feature which stops you opening the lid, don’t tamper with this to get the pot open or you may get burnt. If you’re in a hurry, run the cooker under the cold tap, until the pressure indicator drops and the lid comes off easily.
Go eco, by selecting option a).This can allow you to turn the food off a few minutes before the end of cooking time. The food will continue to cook in the residual heat.
9. Thicken it
Moisture is retained during pressure cooking which means sauces don’t thicken. You can thicken afterwards by leaving your pressure cooker on the heat once the lid is removed and reducing. A mixture of cornflour and water added at this point will help it along.
10. Clean and store it well
This goes for the food and the equipment. The materials that most pressure cookers are made out of are not designed for food storage. Once you’ve cooked your dish, decant it to something else for storage to avoid erosion or marking.
Pressure cooker lids are not designed for the dishwasher or for immersion in water. Wash them under a running tap and clean with washing up liquid, taking off the rubber gasket (lid seal) for a proper clean. Some pots are suitable for dishwashers, others not. Check the instructions. Otherwise wash in the sink. Other parts don’t need to be taken apart and cleaned individually every time but will do if they become blocked. Instructions will explain how to do this.
Dry your pressure cooker thoroughly. Leaving it out on a tea towel, rather than popping it straight in the cupboard will allow air to circulate. Rest the lid upside down on top when storing rather than fitting it on the pot.
Pressure cooker recipes
If you haven't already got a pressure cooker and are wondering which one to buy, take a look at our pick of what's on the market.