What’s a pressure cooker and how do you use it? Your burning questions answered

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It’s common for even experienced cooks to be somewhat intimidated by pressure cookers. The word “pressure” can throw some people off, and others simply don’t know how to use them. But the knowledge of what a pressure cooker is and how to properly cook with them can open up a whole world of possibilities in the kitchen. These versatile machines can make everything from stews to curries or even cakes. Knowledge is power, so we’ve broken down exactly what a pressure cooker is, how to use one, and the cool stuff you can make with one of these devices.

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What is a pressure cooker?

A pressure cooker is an airtight cooking device that cooks food quickly, thanks to the steam pressure that builds up inside. The steam also makes the food moist, which is why this device is perfect for meat stews, cheesecakes, and much more.

How do I use one?

Getting to know your pressure cooker for the first time? Try pressure cooking with just water — this is called a water test, and it’ll help you get to know your machine better. All you have to do is add one or two cups of water into the pot (always use the inner pot, and never put food directly into the cooker without this pot for safety reasons). Lock the lid into position, and make sure to adjust the valve so that it is in the sealed position. Next, select a button for which the cooking time is relatively short. For example, if your device has a button for fish, use that. Now, all you have to do is watch the pressure cooker do its magic. After five minutes or so of the water heating up and building steam pressure, the pressure will then start counting down and slowing releasing. Now you should be able to try it out with real food items.

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How do I make sure the pressure is released?

This is a top concern among people who have never used pressure cookers before. The good news is that modern models of pressure cookers are very safe and easy to use. The easiest approach is to just let the pressure cooker slowly release the pressure all by itself. Keep an eye on the countdown to make sure it’s complete — don’t try to open the lid before the countdown is up, or you could get burned. Some cooks even like letting the pressure cooker sit for a little while longer past the countdown, just to make sure every last bit of pressure is gone.

Which settings do I use?
Most pressure cookers cook all foods in exactly the same way, but there are different cooking times for different foods. For example, the preset button for white rice on your pressure cooker may cook for just 15 minutes, while brown rice will cook for longer. For foods that don’t have preset buttons on the device, there are plenty of helpful charts online that will tell you exactly how long different ingredients should cook for. Here’s one from Hip Pressure Cooking.

What Should I Cook?

The world is your oyster when it comes to cooking with an electric pressure cooker, whether you want to try making porridge, risotto, chicken, or soup. The results are often creamier and more moist than what you would get from a stovetop or oven recipe.

If you have a springform pan, you can even try making desserts like cakes and cheesecakes. Got an oven-safe dish lying around? If it fits into the pressure cooker, you can use that to cook things you might normally cook in an oven.