Before we cook together in the Beginner Basics recipe series you and your pressure cooker need to become the best of friends. It’s easy to do! Your pressure cooker, unlike most things in life, comes with a detailed instruction manual.
While you’re reading it, you will need understand the following things about your new kitchen helper:
Your pressure cooker’s minimum liquid requirement
Although pressure cookers all do the same thing, they all do it slightly differently and this means that each pressure cooker has it’s own minimum liquid requirement (the minimum liquid the cooker needs to boil and generate pressure). You’ll learn in the later lessons that this liquid doesn’t always need to be water, it can be stock, fruit juice or even wine (don’t ever use hard liquor to bring your pressure cooker to pressure). This liquid can even be contributed by the liquid from the veggies and meat. Check the manual to see if says what the minimum liquid requirement is for your pressure cooker it can be anywhere from 1/2 a cup (125ml) to two cups (500ml)!
As a general rule (with lots of safe wiggle room) we recommend 1 cup (250ml) for stovetop and 1 1/2 cups (375ml) for electrics.
How your pressure cooker reaches pressure
With all recipes you will begin counting the cooking time once the pressure cooker has reached pressure. Each manufacturer will have their own way of signaling when their pressure cooker has reached pressure, so it is important that you understand how yours operates.
Here are some basic guidelines for the four types of pressure cookers:
Spring valve, in most modern pressure cookers (also known as 2nd Generation), will “signal” it has reached pressure by a visual, and sometimes also auditory, indicator… usually by raising a rod, signal or bar.
Digital or Electric pressure cookers can “beep, an indicator stops blinking or ‘P’ indicator turns on” but each one has a different way to let you know that it has reached pressure. These pressure cookers will start counting down their own cooking time – so you don’t need to do anything once the cooker has told you it has reached pressure.
Jiggler valve will “rock and jiggle,” at first slowly and then vivaciously, as steam begins to escape to regulate the pressure inside the cooker.
Weight-Modifyed valve will “whistle, hiss or shhhhhck” when it lifts up and down to release extra pressure. This was the first kind of pressure cooker I had and they are very noisy. I liken the sound to a steam engine train, who’s pistons are shooting up and down to move forward – which is not far from reality since the steam engine was based on a pressure cooker design.
How to release pressure
There are three ways pressure cooker recipes will instruct you to release pressure:
Natural Release (for meats, grains and legumes)
Just turn off the heat and and wait for the pressure safety-handle-locking-mechanism, or indicator, to disengage (usually 10-15 minutes). This release is especially useful when cooking grains, beans and meats.
Normal, Manual or Automatic Release (for veggies and fish)
You must know in which direction the vapor will exit your pressure cooker prior to opening it with this method for the first time. Some models will shoot vapor straight up, while others down, some sideways, or (as illustrated) forward, depending on how your hold your pan. Lift or remove the valve, push the button, press or twist the lever to release vapor and pressure until the pressure safety-handle-locking-mechanism disengages. Newer pans will make a final “sigh” and you will feel the top moving down slightly. (about 2 minutes). This release method is best used for quick-cooking foods like vegetables, pasta and fish.
Dismantle and re-mount the valve in 60 seconds
I’m kidding – just checking to see if you’re still reading. Take as long as you like! But know that after each use, you should remove and clean the valve to prevent operating your pressure cooker with an obstruction that could either kick-in the safety mechanisms or, at worst, damage your pressure cooker permanently.
Electric pressure cooker valves can be cleaned less often, if there is no food residue anywhere on the underside of the lid you can get away with cleaning their valve about once a week – it’s a good time to also empty the little condensation cup in the back as well.
So you don’t forget, put the pressure cooker lid next to the sink once it is removed and have any needed “tools” nearby. One of my pressure cookers requires a butter-knife to un-screw the spring valve. My older pressure cooker just needs a strong pull on the weight-modified valve. One of my newest pressure cookers has it’s valve encased in a mystery box, so I just need to make sure that the rubber area leading into that mystery box is clean.
Read your manual and try to follow the cryptic diagrams so you already know what to do after pressure cooking your first dish.
All pressure cookers have some kind of rubber or silicone ring around the edge of the opening that helps it to seal hermetically while it reaches pressure and, often, an emergency pressure release valve. Even if your pressure cooker is new, but especially if it is not, take a careful look at any rubber or silicone parts to make sure that they are not cracked, or damaged in any way.
These are the items that will need to be replaced occasionally depending on the age and frequency of your pressure cooking – they age even if your pressure cooker is not being used. The general recommendation is to replace these parts every 18 months – however some can last much longer.
I do not recommend oiling any of these parts unless specifically recommended in the manual for your model.
The “hot water” test is often used to trouble-shoot any problems that you may have with your pressure cooker and for first-timers to see it in action. It’s just a fancy name for boiling water in your pressure cooker and seeing if, and how, it reaches, keeps and releases pressure. We’ve also created a visual guide to help explain what your pressure cooker will do the first time it comes up to pressure so be sure to refer to it, as well!
Pressure Cooker Hot Water Test
|Electric Pressure Cooker
|Stovetop Pressure Cooker
OPTIONAL: Quickly pour what’s left in the pressure cooker back into the measuring cup or pitcher to see how much liquid evaporated during cooking and the pressure release.
If your pressure cooker did not reach pressure, make sure that the rubber ring is properly in place, and that the valves are correctly mounted and give the test another shot.
Post a comment to introduce yourself and your pressure cooker (model, size and anything else you would like to mention) along with any questions you might have.
Pssssst! Do you want to learn more about the pressure cookers that I’m using? See them described on my About page!