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Health & Wellness

How to Use Your New Pressure Cooker for Healthy, Easy Meals

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If the trend of recent years continues, lots of people may have received electric pressure cookers as holiday gifts this season.

If Santa didn’t bring one, you may want to consider adding a pressure cooker to your kitchen toolset. Once you master a few basics, it’s a quick and convenient way to cook healthy meals with little effort.

Most modern models are multi-cookers. They function as slow cookers and rice cookers, and allow you to sauté and simmer. Some pressure cookers can also do duty as yogurt makers.

Their primary purpose, of course, is cooking foods under pressure. When you’ve put your ingredients into the pot and locked the lid securely to create an airtight seal, the liquid inside is heated to a temperature beyond the boiling point, as high as 250 degrees.

The steam that’s trapped inside cooks food much faster than other cooking methods. Once pressure is reached, beans can be cooked in seven or eight minutes, hard boiled eggs in five minutes, a beef stew in less than 30 minutes, and chicken in about 10 to 15 minutes. And, the intense heat that’s generated means that frozen meats can be cooked without defrosting. 

While the pressure cooker is trapping steam, it’s also trapping flavor, so little fat is needed to produce satisfying meals.

For all its benefits and ease, a pressure cooker can be a confusing piece of kitchen equipment in the beginning. Here are some tips on getting started:

Spend some time getting to know your pressure cooker. If you’re the type of person who never reads the instruction manual, you’ll want to make an exception in this case. Pressure cookers are not intuitive devices, and since they reach such high temperatures, using one improperly is a safety risk.

Understand what recipes work for a pressure cooker and which don’t. Pressure cookers are versatile, but they’re not good for everything. They won’t produce a crisp, crunchy skin, and a skillet on your stovetop is a better match for a quick stir-fry. Pressure cookers are best for braising and stewing, making soups and cooking grains.

Plan ahead. Pressure cookers, despite what they may be called, aren’t instant. While the cooking time for a recipe might be 10 minutes it will take 10 to 30 minutes for the cooker to reach pressure before that countdown begins. Once the cook time is up, the pressure cooker will need anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to release the steam before you’ll be able to open the lid.

Do a test run. Laura Pazzaglia, founder of the hip pressure cooking and author of a cookbook with the same name, suggests boiling four cups of water to become familiar with your pressure cooker’s settings, release options and steam valve.

Start with recipes. If you’re new to pressure cooking, hold off on improvising and begin by following recipes. As Melissa Clark, a food writer and author of several cookbooks on pressure cooking notes, “It’s always going to be more precise to follow a recipe and manually set the exact time and amount of pressure, especially the first time you’re cooking something new in the multicooker. Then feel free to wing it with the preset buttons as you get more comfortable.”

 Join a pressure-cooking community. Whatever your favorite social media network, you’ll find groups swapping recipes and tips, some with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of members. You don’t need to post or comment to take advantage of this knowledge inspiration. You may also want to visit your local library. There are dozens of pressure cooking cookbooks, from general guides, to primers on every type of cuisine, including Indian, Mexican, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free.

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