You might think of a pressure cooker as something a bit old fashioned – perhaps you spotted it mentioned in a recipe from your mother or grandmother, or you remember hearing a furious hiss emanating from the kitchen while she was cooking. But due to the pressure cooker's ability to cook soups, stews, curries, risottos, and other dishes 70% faster than a regular pot, while concentrating flavours and nutrients, the pressure cooker is having a modern renaissance. And this renaissance means today's pressure cooker is much quieter, user-friendly, and safer than the ones of yore.  

How Does It Work?

The best way to understand how a pressure cooker works is to think about how a regular pot works. Say you are boiling a pot of water for pasta; when you put a lid on that pot, the water comes to a boil faster. That's because steam (water in the form of gas) gets trapped inside a closed pot, which increases the temperature. If there is too much steam for your pot to contain, it spills over – this has happened to all of us, right? That's because the inner temperature is too hot for the regular pot to handle. 

Now, in a pressure cooker, the lid is designed to fit on the pot extremely tight so that the water cannot spill over, even if lots of steam gets trapped inside it. When steam is trapped in a sealed chamber like this, it can cook ingredients at a much higher temperature than a regular pot (70% faster, to be more exact). While a regular pot relies on two or more hours of time to fully cook the ingredients of a beef stew, a pressure cooker relies on a higher temperature to have that beef stew done in less than an hour. It's a shortcut, but unlike most shortcuts, it does not sacrifice quality – in fact, since pressure cookers concentrate flavour, it will improve the taste.

Are Pressure Cookers Safe?

Yes, thanks to a valve on their lids that allows them to release steam. This ensures the pressure inside does not become too intense for the pressure cooker to contain. The pressure cooker's valve has evolved over the years to be safer, especially with the invention of the spring-loaded valve, which releases just a little steam at a time, so the temperature inside the pot does not drop significantly.

A spring-loaded valve allows pressure to release without reducing the temperature inside because it pops up to quickly release excess steam before coming back down. The inability to contain steam is the reason any regular lidded pot runs into dangerous territory (think of that pasta water spilling over). But a spring-loaded valve is flexible, so you can rest easy knowing that it is nimble enough to respond to excess steam and release it quickly. It is also much quieter than other types of valves.

The most important thing to note when using any pressure cooker is to always make sure anything you cook in it has plenty of liquid – otherwise, steam cannot be generated. It is designed for cooking soups, stews, and other dishes where water or stock is an essential ingredient. 

To Hob, Or Not To Hob?

There are two schools of pressure cookers: electric and hob. With the former, you can press a button like ‘rice’ or ‘eggs’ and it will do all the work for you. They are convenient and user-friendly, yes, but also tend to be bulky, so having ample space is important as they don’t stack up easily with the other pots in your kitchen. The space required plus their shelf life of a few years do not pass our standards of what makes a piece of cookware a worthwhile investment: function, quality, and durability. 

The traditional metal pressure cooker, on the other hand, is built to last a lifetime. A product test by Consumer Reports also found that non-electric pressure cookers resulted in better browning of foods, and cooking speeds that were over three times faster than electric. (If you’re using a recipe designed for an electric pressure cooker on a hob pressure cooker, you should cook it with 100-150ml more water and 25% less time than specified.)  On a more subjective note, we prefer the way using a hob pressure cooker feels more like traditional cooking (but faster). 

Our Favourite

If you're looking for a high-functioning and simple pressure cooker for daily use, look no further than the Fissler Pressure Cooker. It has a super-thermic base that allows for even and even more-rapid cooking, and is designed to be quiet, a rare feature for hob pressure cookers. The Fissler Vitavit Premium Pressure Cooker has the added bonus of a ridged, grill-like surface that's excellent for browning meat before adding water. Key features include:

  • Reduces cooking time by up to 70%
  • Safety release features with high-quality mechanisms
  • Intuitive, easy-to-open lid with large tabs and traffic light system
  • Wide base for more even cooking as well as closer proximity to the heat source, which includes all hobs including induction
  • Steamer basket attachment for added versatility

    How To Use (and Not Use) a Pressure Cooker

    Once you add all the ingredients needed and are ready to start pressure cooking, seal the lid shut. As the pressure builds, the indicator on the lid will change to say it is cooking at pressure. When this happens, reduce your hob to the lowest heat setting and cook for as long as your recipe indicates. Once you've cooked under pressure for your desired amount of time, turn off the heat and let the pressure release naturally (leave it alone so the valve will go down on its own), or press on the valve with the back of a wooden spoon to quick release the pressure. Be careful, as the steam is very hot. 

    As noted before, the key thing to be aware of is that pressure cookers are not meant for dry foods. You can definitely sauté onions etc. in them with the lid off, before adding liquids and letting the device do its thing, but without added liquids there can be no steam. (If you want a thicker soup or stew, it’s recommended that you reduce it on the hob for a few more minutes after the lid is off.) 

    Tough cuts of meat, like lamb shank or pork shoulder, glide off the bone when cooked under pressure. It makes quick work out of beans and pulses – one of the reasons it is such a mainstay in Indian kitchens, where lentils and chickpeas are key ingredients in dal and channa masala. It's not the best option for delicate seafood or vegetables that cook quickly. But when it comes to dishes and stocks that would normally take 40 minutes or more to cook, the pressure cooker is your friend.

    Recipe(s)

    When you first start using a pressure cooker, following recipes designed for pressure cookers is crucial. That's how you get to understand the fundamentals, and from there, you can see what works best for your preferences. A great starting place is chicken stock, which takes just 45 minutes to make in a pressure cooker. You can use that stock as a base in many dishes, including one of our most popular: Justin's English Asparagus Risotto