Your cookbooks and recipes should already have the instructions on how to use a pressure cooker to make a specific dish. This is a step-by-step guide on the basic procedures you will use to cook with a pressure cooker. Please note that the steps might need adjustments if you use an electric pressure cooker because we wrote it specifically with stovetop cookers in mind.
1. Brown meat and aromatics. Whenever you’re cooking with meat, it’s a good idea to first brown it so that you get a carmalized flavor for depth and you lock in the juices of the meat. When cooking with pressure cookers, browning creates browned bits jammed with flavor that you will often incorporate into a sauce. So whenever you’re cooking with meats, make sure you first brown it in the pressure cooker and then set it aside. Also, if you use any aromatic ingredients such as onions, garlic, and tomato paste, browning these will bring out extra aroma and flavor too.
2. Add liquids. After you brown the meat and aromatics, the next step is always to add the liquids. Liquids are needed to cook the food properly in the cooker. It is often in the form of broth or water but can also be other things like the liquid from a can of tomatoes. NOTE: It is important to add just the right amount of liquid that your recipe calls for. And because there’s no evaporation from the pressure cooker, you usually only need a small amount of liquid.
3. Lock lid. Today’s pressure cookers are very secure and their lids snap and lock safely into place. How you lock your lid will depend on your model. Some have lids where you line the markers, while others have lids where you line up the handles. Another safety feature is that if your lid is locked in place, there’s an indicator to let you know that it’s closed properly.
4. Bring cooker to the appropriate pressure level. Once you’ve locked the lid, put the pressure cooker over the stove and heat it over medium-high heat until the desired pressure level is reached. Your pressure cooker should have indicators to tell you when your pressure cooker reaches the desired level.
5. Reduce heat and maintain cooking pressure. Once your cooker reaches the desired pressure level, reduce the heat level and cook for the amount of time indicated on your recipe. It’s important to maintain the pressure level at this stage so make sure you have enough heat – and not too little! Usually, the medium-low setting on your stove will do. As you get used to working with your pressure cooker, you will be able to gauge the settings and timing on both the cooker and your stove. Careful not to run the heat too high because this will scorch the pot. In the old days, this also posed a safety risk because too much pressure builds up.
6. Release pressure. Pressure cookers cook fast. You won’t be waiting on it for too long. Usually food cooks in 10 to 15 minutes. Once the food is done cooking, you will release the pressure. This will be done either manually or naturally. Most recipes call for quick pressure release (manual). In this case, use your pressure cooker’s release valve or button and make sure you point the steam away from you. With the natural release method, you would simply slide the cooker onto a cold burner and let it sit for 15 minutes. Pressure will drop naturally. But the residual heat will continue cooking the food so try not to let it sit for longer than 15 minutes and quick release any remaining pressure to ensure good results.
7. Remove lid. Without any pressure remaining, you can remove the lid. Carefully unlock and twist open, noting that there will be some steam leaving the cooker. The food is basically ready to serve, but in some cases, you might want to continue cooking the food with the lid open or make a sauce with the remaining liquid.
A final word: If you are using an electric pressure cooker, some adjustments we would recommend is adding about a cup more liquid than the recipe indicates before cooking under pressure, and then using the browning setting to simmer the sauce to proper consistency before serving. Also, avoid using the keep warm setting because it will throw off your recipe.
Let us know if you have any specific questions below and we’ll try our best to address them. Good luck!