Everything you Need to Know About Pressure Cookers!

How many whistles do you need for rice? How many will cook your prized black daal recipe? 

These are questions that most of us have when we are using pressure cookers in the kitchen. What adds to the confusion is that there are so many myths and misinformation about pressure cookers that have been doing the rounds since the times of our grandmothers.

Like take few of these myths that just won't go away :

Myth 1: Pressure Cooking causes food to lose it's nutritional value

Truth : This is absolutely untrue. Research has shown that pressure cooking is a great way to retain nutrients in your food.

Myth 2: Pressure Cooked food loses taste and is less delicious than other methods of cooking

Truth : You will be glad to know that pressure cooked food can be really delicious because it retains the original flavors of the ingredients

Myth 3 : There are only a few dishes you can cook in a pressure cooker

Truth : Pressure Cookers are extremely versatile and can cook a variety of dishes and cuisines. Right from a cake in a pressure cooker to tender, juicy meat, your pressure cooker is truly a champion tool in the kitchen!

Cooking in pressure cookers is not rocket science. It is an intuitive process that you can ace with practice.

Remember these few things while cooking in your favorite Pressure Cooker :

1. Before first use, a simple way to test if your pressure cooker is building pressure without a leak is before you install the pressure regulator, close the lid properly, blow into the vent tube up to the point that the pressure cooker is full. (Ensure that the pressure cooker is not hot!) What is a good indicator that the pressure cooker is functioning as desired is if after a point, you cannot blow any more air into the pressure cooker. 

2. Before using the pressure cooker, ensure that the safety gasket is installed properly

3. Close the lid properly so that the cooker is sealed shut. Check that the indicators on the handles are aligned on top of each other.

4. Be mindful to check that for blockages in the steam vent. Certain foods like cereals, pasta etc can block the vent and inhibit the release of steam. 

5. Don't overfill the pressure cooker with liquid. Leave some room for the steam to build up. A good measure for cooking common things like rice and lentils is that including the liquid and the ingredients, the contents should not fill more than half the pan. Do remember that different ingredients need different liquid quantities to cook. For amount of liquid that common ingredients need, refer to the image below.

 

While making your recipes for pressure cooker, remember to account for the right time and quantity of liquid. To excel at pressure cooking, it is important to understand how a pressure cooker works. 

How Does a Pressure Cooker Really Work?

The pressure cooker was invented in 1679 by a French physicist called Denis Papin. Did you know that for a long time the pressure cooker was called Papin's Digester, named after it's inventor.
Pressure cookers work on the simple 'ideal gas equation' . They can be quite simply be described as chambers that are sealed shut to enable pressure being built up by steam. How is that done? 
The pressure cooker is primarily made of 7 components. Each component plays an important part in the functioning and utility of the pressure cooker. 

The main parts of the pressure cooker are as follows:

1. Chamber - This is where the pressure is built and the food is placed.
2. Lid - The lid helps to seal the chamber shut and regulate the pressure
3. Gasket - The gasket helps in keeping the chamber airtight so that steam is stored between the chamber and the lid. 
4. Pressure Regulator - The pressure regulator is a precisely weighted component that helps to regulate the pressure inside to a fixed variable
5. Vent Tube - The vent tube helps the steam to escape the chamber
6. Handle &  Secondary Handle - The handle is designed in heat proof material to help in ease of handling
7. Safety Valve - safety valve is a safety mechanism that prevents too much pressure from building inside the pressure cooker

Pressure Cooker Technique

Pressure Cooker techniques have evolved over generations. The Pressure Cooker has become an essential tool in the Indian kitchen, not just for everyday home food but also for exotic cooking. Whether it is the humble but comfy daal khichadi or the exotic chicken continental, the pressure cooker has evolved into a handy companion across regions, cultures and demographics. 
When it comes to using a pressure cooker, we all have been trained to listen for the 'seeti' or the 'whistle'. Based on how many times we hear the whistle go off, we make assumptions on whether our food is cooked and ready. 
Did you know that this is not the most efficient way of using the pressure cooker?

''The hissing sound or the 'whistle' of the cooker is just an indicator that the pressure cooker is under full operating pressure and heat needs to be regulated.''

The ideal way to cook in a pressure cooker is to reduce the heat after the first hissing sound and start timing your recipe after that point. It is counter productive to count the number of whistles while cooking in a pressure cooker because each time the steam is released through the pressure regulator, the temperature of the pressure cooker is actually reducing, making the cooking process longer than it would be if we were to let the steam be inside and cook the ingredients. 

Simple Way of Cooking in a Pressure Cooker (Yellow Moong Daal Example)

Let's say you are cooking yellow moong daal in a pressure cooker. The ideal way to do that is to pre soak it for atleast 10-15 minutes before you begin. Add a little bit of salt, turmeric and a teaspoon of oil which will prevent the lentils from foaming on top of the pressure cooker lid. Let the pressure build up and just after the first hissing sound shut the heat (because moong daal cooks fast) and wait for the pressure to naturally subside and the lid to open on it's own. The daal will be cooked perfectly. 
While yellow moong daal cooks relatively faster than other lentils and hard vegetables, you can use the same technique for everything you cook in the pressure cooker, with minor adjustments. When it comes to potatoes for instance, you can simmer the heat after the first hissing sound and cook for 7-8 minutes on sim heat. After that, just wait for the cooker lid to open naturally and you will see that your potatoes are cooked beautifully! 

Choosing the Right Pressure Cooker

There are many kinds of pressure cookers available in the market. In India, most households use two types of stove top pressure cookers - the inner lid and the outer lid pressure cooker. 
Choosing between the two is more of a personal choice driven by habit than anything else. A number of people choose to go with the outer lid pressure cooker because of the following reasons :
1. They offer more space for inserts and separators
2. Their gaskets are easier to clean, maintain and are more sturdy
3. The lid is easy to use and does not need any practice, they are also easier to clean
4. Inner lid cookers generally have inward- turned edges that make it difficult to pour easily. Outer lid cookers have rounded edges that enable a smooth, spill proof pour
5. Outer lid cookers are fitted with more safety mechanisms than inner lid pressure cookers
Here is a quick comparison guide for buying the best pressure cooker suited for your needs :
Feature  INNER LID COOKERS  OUTER LID COOKERS
Double Safety Mechanism  Single
Broad Gasket Thin
Easy Pour
Triply
Space for Inserts Lesser Space
Ease of Cleaning  Not as Easy

 

Here are some considerations while choosing pressure cookers:

'What is the ideal size of pressure cooker for my family?' 
A 3 and 4 liter pressure cooker is best for a small family of upto 4 people. If you need more space in the pressure cooker and are a bigger family, a 5 liter pressure cooker would be ideal to serve a family of upto 6 people. For new mothers who are introducing food to their toddlers, a 1 liter Baby cooker is the best option. This would also serve a single adult living by themselves. If you are a couple living together, a 2.5 liter cooker would be just right although it might not fit inserts. A pan style pressure cooker of 3.5 liters is great for a family of 3.
 
How do I plan on using the pressure cooker?
This information will help you decide the shape, material and functionality of the cooker. Will you be needing it just for rice and lentils or will you also be using it for a variety of other dishes? Are you comfortable cooking with inserts or are you used to cooking without them? Do remember that these are considerations that will help you not just choose the right pressure cooker but also use it most efficiently. Are you a health conscious family? Or have a cancer patient at home? Avoid cooking in Aluminum and go for triply stainless steel pressure cooker instead. Why triply? Because triply is the best form of stainless steel cooking. It is healthy because there is no contact with aluminum, free of lead or any other residue. It is efficient because it uses less oil and fuel and is a breeze to clean. 

While evaluating the best pressure cooker on the market, remember the 4S rule:

  1. Size - Buy a size that's ideal for your family.

  2. Shape - A shape that will serve your needs well.

  3. Safety - Choose the best and healthiest material to cook in.

  4. Storage - Evaluate ease of maintenance, space and cleaning.

 

 Stahl's triply pressure cookers are tested for safety at 3 times the pressure that the cooker is built to handle. Made exclusively for Indian cooking, these pressure cookers come in 7 different sizes and are a pure joy to cook in. Click here to buy.