16 Jun 2009

How to use a pressure cooker

Using a retro piece of kit like a pressure cooker may seem like a bit of a faff, but I have to admit that I am a complete convert (although this could be due to the luxury of not working here in India and “running the home”). However, particularly in these cost and environment conscious times, pressure cooking is a great way to cook cheap ingredients (dried beans, pulses, lentils, slow cooking meat cuts) using much less energy and water. And whilst I remain a little jumpy at the Indian pressure cooker whistle, I know I will continue to use it for all the authentic Indian recipes I have learnt here (rajma, channa pindi, channa dal, mossor dal to name a few).

I have an old fashioned model, the cheapest and most straight forward to use (if you don’t like the look or cost the new digital style ones). Using this type, as my mother did when I was a child also means you have people to ask when you get a little uncertain about its behaviour.

So here are some guidelines for how to use a pressure cooker, but please note: these are mere guidelines, and you should always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. Living in India, where everyone uses one and knows the intricacies how they work, my instructions were a little basic ... so much of this is based on my own learning, mistakes and frantic google-ing.

  • First of all don’t be scared of it. Know that it will make a racket and with all the safe guards on even the most basic models, it is extremely unlikely to explode!
  • Ensure that the rim of the pan is free from dents as this will affect the seal
  • Ensure the rubber seal is intact and dry
  • Ensure the hole through which the steam comes is clean
  • Ensure the weight is clean and its holes are clean
  • Have a timer / phone / alarm to hand for accurate cooking times
  • Ensure you have the right amount of water to solids so that the ingredient doesn’t dry out and there is enough steam to release the pressure. Use this site for guidance and the amounts I often work further on
  • Make sure the handle of the pan is secure (mine comes undone every now and again) and affects the pressure
  • When you are ready to pressure cook, secure the lid on the pan as instructed and put on a high heat to bring the liquid to a boil
  • When there is a gentle jet of steam (not a gushing of lentil water, as in my first attempt) place the weight on top of the spout ensuring it is firmly in place with a click (or not so much of a click like my baby Indian version). Run you hand above the spout and you should feel a stream of air.
  • Leave the pan on a high heat and in a few moments the weight will start to wobble and spurt. Leave it alone (this was the moment that I got really scared and chickened out). You must wait for the “whistle”.
  • Only when you get a right old spurt of steam coming from underneath the weight or a “whistle” should you then turn the heat down to a low setting.
  • My Indian pressure cooker makes no whistle at all, only a noisy spurt, but I believe others actually whistle.
  • Leave the Pressure Cooker to cook as long as required.
  • You may get water or cooking liquid coming out from the weight, but this is ok.
  • Mine “whistles” every 30 seconds or so, but I believe (or rather hope) the bigger ones are slightly less often.
  • When the time is up, turn off the heat and remove the pressure cooker from the hob.
  • DO NOT TRY TO OPEN THE LID. Leave the pressure cooker to cool down and pressure release until no pressure is released.
  • This should take about 20-30mins but you can check the by lifting the weight GENTLY with the tip of the knife. If it’s still spurting steam, leave it alone.
  • Most recipes include the cooling down time as part of the cooking time, as the ingredients are still under pressure and therefore still cooking, so it’s best not to try and rush this phase as you may end up with half cooked beans.
  • Once the pressure has all gone, undo the lid and check you ingredient is cooked. If not, you can replace the lid and repeat the whole process again until what you are cooking is complete.
Water measurements and pressure cooking time for 1 cup of ingredients:
Chickpeas : 3 ½ cups of water - cook for 30mintues
Rajma (kidney beans) : 3 ½ cups of water - cook for 30mintues
Channa dal (chickpea dal) : 3 cups of water - cook for 30minutes
Arhar dal (yellow dal) : 3 cups of water - cook for 10minutes
Urad dal (black lentil) : 2 ½ cups of water cook for 30minutes

Note: Using 1 litre of milk to make paneer gives you just over what you need to make dal with the whey using 1 cup of lentils.

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