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How to adapt whistling pressure cooker recipes to modern pressure cookers.

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 Whistling Pressure cookerIndian 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

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13 Comments

  1. Do these “whistling” pressure cookers lose a few psi of pressure on each whistle?

    1. I don’t know how many psi, exactly. But, yes. The weight rises and releases pressure – the pressure inside the pressure cooker drops and the builds up again to 15psi where it is released again.

      Unlike spring-valve cookers which maintain a constant temperature (assuming the right amount of heat is applied), these weighted-valve cookers have a constantly changing temperature.

      Ciao,

      L

      1. This stuff fascinates me. I guess it could be possible to adjust the heat on these “whistling” (first generation) pressure cookers to medium-high to maintain pressure so the weight never drops? But this would waste a lot of energy and probably overcook the food to mush?

        Today’s spring-valve pressure cookers just need a set amount of heat after reaching pressure, between low and medium heat, to maintain the same heat and pressure inside the pan. I’m slightly confused about something: are all spring-valve cookers technically “non-venting” – even those that release a wisp of steam throughout the cooking time?

        1. Actually these cookers need a little extra heat to operate than spring-valve cooker medium-low vs. low heat.

          There is some confusion around about venting and non-venting cookers because there is no “official” industry definition of venting and non-venting cookers.

          My definition is this: venting cookers are those that regulate heat with a weighted valve and HAVE to vent in rhythmical manner (whether jiggling or pumping) to maintain pressure (these cookers need more heat and liquid and cook at variable temperatures), while non-venting cookers use a spring-valve and have their heat regulated with the amount of heat (these cookers need less heat and liquid and cook at a nearly constant temperature). While it is true that some “non-venting” cookers may actually have a stream of steam that is only indicative of the quality of the spring valve and does not change their actual operation (constant temperature at low heat).

          Electric pressure cookers, instead, are considered “venting” according to my definition. Even though they do not loose any actual steam while operating it’s because they’ve been programmed to never reach the temperature that would cause the weighted valve to rise. The temperature swings quite a bit when the electric heat element turns on and off beneath them to maintain pressure.

          BTW, I tested the evaporation rate of both the Fagor (which has a small constant stream of steam) and Kuhn Rikon (which, instead has light whisps of steam) and the evaporation rate between them was nearly the same.

          Ciao,

          L

  2. Thank you for demystifying the “whistles”. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched a Khana Kazana, or Manjula’s Kitchen recipe video on YouTube, and was frustrated that they give number of whistles, instead of actual timmings. It made me not want to use a pressure cooker at all.

    1. I hadn’t heard of Khana Kazana – but I have seen Manjula’s Kitchen and in her most recent videos she uses a spring valve pressure cooker- I think it’s a Fagor Elite (and it doesn’t whistle : ).

      Ciao,

      L

      1. We have a Fagor Pressure cooker and it does not whistle. How much time would it take to cook if we are following a recipe that says two whistles?

        1. Kiran, what is the main ingredient of the recipe?

          Ciao,

          L

    2. I agree with you. I’m an Indian and had been using Indian pressure cookers for quite a while. Those instructions are for naive or beginner cooks. I don’t count whistles, but after the first whistle (when it reaches the maximum pressure), just turn the stove to low heat and then count the time (it just needs to maintain that pressure, needn’t whistle at all). In most cases, the food will be cooked even if you switch off the stove after a single whistle (and let it keep cooking with that pressurized steam until it gradually loses the pressure). That’s how my family used to do, and we don’t count the number of whistles. By the way, if you just want to cook it partly (like a half-boiled egg), then after you turn off, release the pressure by taking off the weight/ valve (but be careful — only when all the pressure is gone, you are safe to open the lid). I sometimes used to cook with a pressure cooker without putting the valve at all — those dishes (like Dum Biriyani) which needs slow cooking — which just needs a steaming and not a high temperature-pressure cooking.

  3. Laura, I have been cooking from Indian recipes for years, and I had to figure out the “whistles” for myself by using familiar recipes as benchmarks (I know it takes 15 minutes in my pressure cooker to cook this kind of dal, and the recipe says “3 whistles,” so 1 whistle must be about 5 minutes). I have been using this 5-minutes-per-whistle rule of thumb for a long time, and it seems to work pretty well. But just today, I found that another pressure cooker blogger, Miss Vickie, has tested an Indian cooker and found that it whistles about once every 3 minutes. So 3-5 minutes per whistle is probably a pretty good estimate to use.

    1. Any weighted valve pressure cooker can whistle more or less often just by adjusting the heat. A high flame just means it reaches the weighted pressure and has to release it more often.

      I think the difference you found is just another example of why trying to adapt whistle-counting to minutes is a very inaccurate proposition. But.. if the conversion system you’ve devised works for you – that’s great, too!

      Ciao,

      L

  4. So here’s an added wrinkle to the whistle saga. I keep running into Indian recipes that specify directions like this:

    “Pressure cook for 2 whistles on Med-High, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for additional 45 minutes. Allow pressure to release on its own.”

    The first part I can translate pretty easily — but what is going on in that second, 45 minute phase? This is a recipe for kidney beans, so I would imagine that being under any kind of pressure for 45 minutes would destroy them. But they clearly don’t have you release pressure until the end.

    Would using the “keep warm” setting on my IP-DUO (following the recommended cooking time for kidney beans) be a good strategy?

    1. That’s a reference to “pressure cooking time”, you are supposed to lower heat to maintain pressure with weighted stovetop pressure cookers. Just disregard all of the “cooking” instructions and just punch-in the appropriate cooking time according to our chart. : )

      Ciao,

      L

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