At least weekly, readers ask me how to convert the number of whistles indicated in an Indian pressure cooker recipe to minutes. “How many minutes do I substitute for each whistle?” it goes. Only a few before me tried to crack this magic formula without success. But now, all shall be revealed!
whistling pressure cookers
In India, and most of the East Indies for that matter, there is a pressure cooker (or two) in every household – their books and websites are filled with infinite inspiration of delicious and nutritious pressure cooker recipes. Tough premium pressure cooker manufacturers are slowly cracking into the Indian market the most widely used pressure cookers there are still those of Indian manufacture.
Indian pressure cookers look very different from the modern spring-valve pressure cookers that have dominated the American and Northern European market. They are very similar to the early American and popular Italian pressure cookers in that these cookers regulate pressure with a weight. The weight sits on the vent until the maximum pressure is reached inside the cooker (usually 15psi) and then the weight lifts to release any extra pressure.
Like all pressure cookers, these cookers are also brought to pressure on high heat, but it’s the first “whistle” that indicates the cooker has reached pressure.
Indian pressure cooker whistles don’t actually sound like whistle at all. They sound more like a very angry librarian shusshing loud teenagers or the sound piston firing on a steam engine. They can be surprising, loud and scary to the un-trained ear – especially pets and babies! My husband was not immune, either, he skedaddled out of the kitchen when I used my old-style Italian pressure cooker.
whistles come and go, but timers are forever
The frequency of the whistles on Indian pressure cookers is variable. While some manufacturers say that the heat is too high if the cooker makes more than four whistles per minute- the reality is that most Indian cookers can make anywhere from one to four whistles per minute depending on how high, or low the heat source is set.
Indian pressure cooker manufacturers are trying to move cooks away from counting whistles, too. Hawkings Pressure Cookers, for example, write in their pressure cooking FAQ, that “..counting whistles may give you the wrong time for cooking any particular food or recipe. As a result, food may not get properly cooked, and there are chances of water drying up and food burning, and/or safety valve fusing. ” They recommend the cook “…start timing recipes when the pressure cooker reaches full operating pressure..” and to “..use a kitchen timer or watch/clock”.
cooking time, not whistles are the key
So the answer to translating a whistling pressure cooker recipe is not a magic formula at all but just practical pressure cooking. Take a careful look at the whistling pressure cooker recipe, and find the main ingredient (usually legume, meat or rice), then just look-up the cooking time of that ingredient in our pressure cooking time chart. Just follow the recipe but pressure cook for the time indicated in the chart. That’s it.
your fave whistling recipe?!?
Post a link (and photo, too) to your favorite whistling pressure cooker recipe in the comments, below!
Images Credits (top to bottom): Prestiege marketing photo, Nisha Sarda of Spusht