You'll find everything you need to know about pressure cooking with today's new generation of pressure cookers in The Pressured Cook: Over 75 One-Pot Meals in Minutes Made in Today's 100% Safe Pressure by Lorna Sass.
In addition to the older American models of pressure cookers, there are now new and improved European cookers on the market. These sleek and sophisticated appliances, which operate quietly, have stationary pressure regulators rather than jiggle-tops and are made of high-quality stainless steel with a copper or aluminum sandwich in the bottom for even cooking. (If your old cooker doesn't have a well-constructed bottom, you'll want to purchase a Flame Tamer, an inexpensive round metal disc that diffuses heat.)
A 6-quart cooker is recommended for the average cook. If you wish to cook in quantity, opt for an 8-quart model. The European cookers are sized in liters—a 5-liter cooker holds about 6 quarts; a 7-liter about 8 quarts. If you use a 4-quait cooker, simply divide the recipe in half.
The pressure cooker works by trapping steam inside the sealed pot, forcing the pressure to build to 15 pounds above normal sea-level pressure, and raising the temperature at which later boils from 212 degrees F. to 250 degrees F. Cooked at this higher-than-normal boiling point, the fiber in food breaks down and the flavors mingle in one-third or less the standard cooking time. When cooking at high altitudes, increase cooking time by 10 percent for every 2,000 feet above sea level. For the pressure cooker to work properly, there must be sufficient room inside the pot for the steam pressure to build. Therefore, cookers are filled anywhere from halfway to three-quarters of total capacity, depending upon the type of ingredients and the particular design.
After the ingredients are assembled in the cooker, nest the lid into the pot, using arrows or other visual clues that are provided by the manufacturer, then turn the lid until the lid and pot handles line up. Some cookers have an additional locking mechanism that involves pushing a small lever into place. Most cookers are designed so that if the lid is not properly locked in place, the pressure won't rise. And remember, there's no peeking once the lid is locked in place and the pressure is up, it will be necessary to bring the pressure down to assess doneness or add more ingredients.
High pressure is achieved as rapidly as possible by setting the cooker over maximum heat. Depending upon the quantity and type of food you are cooking and the size of the cooker, it can take from 30 seconds to 20 minutes for the cooker to reach high pressure. This process can be speeded up by adding a boiling (rather than cold or room temperature) liquid.
When the meal is cooked, bring down the pressure by placing the cooker under cold running water. It's best to tilt the cooker about 45 degrees and run the water down one side of the cover, directing it away from the vicinity of the pressure regulator. The newer models of cookers also offer a quick-release method that can be performed without moving the pot from the stove. Sometimes the pressure is allowed to drop naturally by removing the cooker from the heat and letting it sit for 3 to 20 minutes, depending upon the quantity and type of food in the pot. Some foods, paiticularly beeL require a natural pressure release to remain tender.
The high heat of the pressure cooker mutes the flavor of garlic, herbs, and some spices. Recipes often call for whole spices, which will survive more successfully than ground, or for larger than usual quantities. Garlic, herbs, and spices may also be added at the end for a final few minutes of simmering after the pressure is released.
A garlic press is indispensable when adding garlic at the end of cooking. A good press will virtually peel and mash each clove with one squeeze, extruding a purée that quickly infuses the dish with flavor. When using the press, squeeze it right into the cooker and use a knife to scrape the purée directly into the pot. Then use the knife to poke the peel out of the bowl of the press.
A 4-cup or larger gravy separator is essential for degreasing stews when you don't have time to refrigerate them overnight. The long spout on the separator allows you to easily pour off degreased gravy, leaving behind a layer of fat that rises to the top.
Remove and clean the pressure cooker's rubber gasket after each use and allow it to air-dry thoroughly before setting it back in the lid. Although gaskets last for years, it's wise to have a backup on hand. You can test an old gasket by placing 2 cups of water in the cooker and bringing it up to pressure. If water drips down the sides of the pot or the pressure doesn't rise, you need a new gasket. Do not attempt to use any gasket except the one made for your model. If you can't find a replacement gasket at your local housewares store, contact the manufacturer directly.
The Pressured Cook:
Over 75 One-Pot Meals in Minutes Made
in Today's 100% Safe Pressure Cookers
By Lorna Sass
William Morrow & Co.
Reprinted by permission.
This page created April 1999
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