Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How to Use a Stovetop Pressure Cooker (Video)

I made a 2014 resolution: to buy a pressure cooker and find out for myself what the hype is about.  I bought Fagor Duo 8 quart stovetop pressure cooker.  It's Cook's Illustrated "best buy" option that sells for about $100, making it very affordable compared to other brands (Kuhn Rikon, Fissler, etc).

I can't stop using it.  Pressure cooking is fantastic, not just because it's fast, but because it produces absolutely the best beans.  But this road to pressure cooking bliss was not without some bumps.  My first pressure cooker was slightly defective.  It took me a few weeks to figure out why it was cooking so inconsistently.  Eventually, I got it to work just fine, but in the meantime, Wayfair, the helpful retailer that sold it to me on Amazon sent me another one for free.  The second one worked perfectly and it helped me solve the problem with my first one.  It seems from Amazon reviews that I am not the only person with pressure problems, so I decided to make a video showing how to use Fagor Duo, and how to deal with its little quirks.

YouTube Link: How to Use a Pressure Cooker
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel


Do I have to make any adjustments to use a pressure cooker on an electric stove?
Yes.  On an electric stove, you can't drop the heat quickly from high to low.  To simulate that, heat up your pressure cooker over high heat on one burner, and then move it to another burner that you preheated to medium-low heat.

Every time I turn the heat down, my pressure indicator drops.  What should I do?
Make sure you are not turning down the heat too soon.  Only turn it down if these three conditions are met: 
  1. the steam is escaping from the knob area 
  2. the pressure indicator came up 
  3. the handles clenched tightly
If all three conditions were met and the pressure indicator still falls, your heat might be too low.  Turn up the heat back to high until all three conditions are met, and then turn it back down to low, but not quite as low as you tried the first time. 

Is it ok for the water to drip from the handle?
It's normal for the water to drip from the handle while the pressure is building and before the handles clenched.  Once full pressure is reached, wipe the remaining water under the handle and see what happens. If the water continues to drip, the seal might not be tight enough.

How much should I pamper my gasket?
I’ll be honest with you -- I don’t pamper my gasket too much and it seems fine. Definitely don’t put it in the dishwasher, but I let it air dry instead of towel dry and almost never oil it. If it does crack, Fagor replacement gaskets are cheap. If you have Kuhn Rikon, you might want to be more careful since their gaskets are pricey.

How do I convert normal cooking time to pressure cooking time?
It depends on the recipe, but I find that 15 minutes under pressure (5 on heat plus 10 off heat) is usually equal to 1 hour of gentle simmer without pressure.  

How do you choose which release method to use?
The faster you release pressure, the more violently the food will boil inside the pot, which is not advisable for delicate foods like beans that can break up.  Most of the time I use a combination of natural and automatic release.  In other words, I let the pot sit off heat for a specific duration (for example, 10 minutes), then release steam with a knob and open.  The reason I am timing how long the pot is off the heat is that if the pot is left to its own devices, the amount of time it will take to depressurize depends greatly on how much food is in the pot.  This means that if you are doubling your recipe, it can easily take much longer for the pot to depressurize and the contents will overcook.  The reason you have to time things so precisely is that 10 minutes off the heat in a pressure cooker are roughly like 40 minutes of regular cooking.


Matt said...

Hey Helen!

Glad you finally got a pressure cooker! If you like baked beans, you should try the chefsteps recipe.

There are also many other recipes that use baking soda to achieve a roasting effect for purees. Onions, carrots, squash, sweet potato and bananas particularly well.

Helen said...

Hi Matt,

Yes, already tried the baking soda with vegetables to caramelize them. My only pet peeve with this technique from MC is that you need a scary amount of butter (1 stick per pound of veggies). I have tried it with less butter, but it's not the same. Awesome for special occasion meals, but probably not for every day. I'll look into chefsteps baked beans. It's hard to cook beans any other way after trying a pressure cooker ;)


Shirley said...

I have four pressure cookers of different sizes. All r Indian brand. Pulses beans, rice, pilaf......pressure cookers r time saver. Don't laugh but I even make broth, stocks and soups in them

Helen said...

I wouldn't laugh at stocks and soups -- I do that too. A brown chicken stock that would normally take 5 hours of simmering, takes only 1.5 hours in a pressure cooker. How awesome is that :)

Scarlett said...

These are some great tips Helen. I would add that for busy people, get an electric pressure cooker (not the stove top ones) so you don't have to monitor it. I used this website to learn all about cooking with pressure and which machine to buy. I love my pressure cooker now!

Unknown said...

Nicely explained... I have also not ventured into baking in a cooker... reason may be that I had the oven from when I learned to bake.. Although I feel like I want to try the cooker method at least once... Thanks for the detailed explanation. . http://www.mybestcookwarereviews.com/

Cindy Cross said...

I am having a hard time finding words to truly express my gratitude to you for this video. After spending 3 hours and having a half hour full on crying pity party over not getting my brand new, (very expensive for our budget) Favor pressure cooker to work, in find your awesome video!!!! All I needed to know was to see if the handles "clicked" together and then when the pressure button popped up to push the locking mechanism up a tiny bit!!!! Such tiny little hints,. But so major to help to prevent a total breakdown! Thank you. In my eyes you are an Angel.

Helen said...

So glad I could help :) I was ready to cry too when I couldn't figure out how to make my pressure cooker work the first few times.