Pressure's On! Tips on Working with a Pressure Cooker
Let’s face it, when thinking of using a pressure cooker to make a meal, we suddenly become overtaken by a sense of fear, imagining the steam induced screeches of the old fashioned pressure cookers whose tops rattled, seemingly ready to pop right off the pot exploding mushy green peas everywhere.
When I first got married, I had no idea how to cook. Being middle eastern, I wanted to be able to make some traditional dishes - especially because they were healthier. My mom rarely used a pressure cooker and the thought of me using one with no experience gave me heart palpitations. Until my cousin showed me how. Literally, in three minutes. I couldn’t believe how easy it was.
In the past 20+ years, I have pretty much been able to put dinner on the table from start to finish in less than about 30 minutes using a pressure cooker. Here are some tips based on making a middle eastern version of beef stew.
1. Use a Modern Day Pressure Cooker:
I have never, nor will I ever have the desire to use one of the old pressure cookers with the rattling tops. Just thinking of those makes me want to run and take cover.
Pressure cookers like these are so much easier to use and although not necessarily quieter, they don’t make you feel like they are going to explode. They are much safer as well with safety features helping to prevent the premature opening of the lid.
2. Don’t Over Cook Your Food:
Because the pressure cooker is cooking with “pressure”, food cooks in half the time. For a beef stew, with 1 - 1 ½ lbs of stew meat, once the pressure is built up, it takes about 15-20 minutes to cook. If using chicken breast or legs and thighs, reduce the pressured cooking time by about 5 minutes. You can cook practically anything in a pressure cooker (I personally, have always just stuck to stews) so it’s a very versatile piece of cooking equipment.
3. Use Enough Liquid:
Based on my beef stew recipe, you can use, water, beef stock or in my case, V-8 juice. Say what? Yes, a dear friend of mine who has been like a second mother to me, told me once to use V-8 in place of water in my stews. I’m not kidding - game changer when it comes to taste. Always make sure your meat, vegetables, or whatever, is covered in liquid. Some recipes other than stews, may call for less, but I like having it and if it’s too much, I use the extra as a base for soup or another stew.
4. Never “Peek” to See if it’s Done:
Modern day pressure cookers have safety valves which prevent you from opening the sealed lid when there is still pressure built up within the pot. This is for not only your safety, but the safety of those around you. To give you an idea, the temperature for water within a pressure cooker can reach up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s not a joke. The steam is also extremely hot, so make sure you’re not reaching over the pot if there is steam escaping at any point.
5. Remember, Set Timer & Turn off Heat Sooner Than Needed
The timer shouldn’t start until the pressure cooker reaches pressure. Once it does, start the timer. Remember to turn off the heat source a few minutes earlier as the food continues to cook within the pot even if the heat is turned off.
The above tips are for a stove top version of a pressure cooker. Electric pressure cookers typically have their own digital timers built in. Brown your beef/chicken right in the pressure cooker before adding the other ingredients and liquids. Season as you go along.
Below is a delicious fall/winter weekday meal packed with veggies, protein and goodness!
Easy Pressure Cooker Beef Stew:
1-1 ½ lbs. Stew Meat
½ cup tomato paste
1 cup thick cut carrot pieces
1 cup small potatoes cut in ½ or ¼ slices
½ cup fresh or frozen string beans
Fresh Ground Pepper
1-2 cups of V-8 juice (not spicy)
Brown stew meat in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, until meat is no longer pink on the outside seasoning with some salt, pepper, turmeric, allspice and garlic powder. Make sure to mix meat thoroughly with all seasoning.
Once mixed, add vegetables (minus the string beans) and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper and mix all together. Add V-8 until it covers over the meat. Add a little salt (note: V-8 has a lot of salt to begin with) and pepper.
Cover pressure cooker and cook on medium/high heat. Once pressure has built up, set timer for 20 minutes. At the 15 minute mark, reduce the heat to low and once timer is complete, turn of heat all the way and wait for the pressure to come down.
While waiting for the stew (20 min), prepare rice to accompany the stew along with a salad. When the pressure has reduced and you are able to unlock the pressure cooker, add the frozen green beans in for about 3-4 minutes on high heat. Plate alongside rice and salad. Enjoy!
Hugs, Mama K