Using a pressure cooker is a great way to quickly cook food while retaining more nutrients. With the ability to cook at higher temperatures, pressure cookers can significantly reduce cooking times for many dishes. However, there are some limitations on what can safely be cooked in a pressure cooker.
Meats and Poultry
Most cuts of meat and poultry can be cooked in a pressure cooker. The high heat helps break down connective tissues, resulting in very tender and flavorful meats in a fraction of the normal cooking time. Lean meats like chicken breasts or pork chops cook quickly in a pressure cooker, usually in less than 15 minutes. Tougher cuts of meat like pork shoulder or beef chuck roast become fall-apart tender after 45-60 minutes of cooking time. Meat should be browned or seared before pressure cooking for better flavor. Then the cooking liquid like broth or sauce is added along with any other ingredients before securing the lid and bringing up to pressure.
One exception is cured meats like bacon, sausage, or hot dogs which should not be pressure cooked due to the risk of botulism poisoning. Fresh raw meats, poultry, and seafood are perfectly safe to cook in a pressure cooker as long as a safe minimum cooking temperature is reached.
Fruits and Vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables can be cooked in a pressure cooker. Dense vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips and beets cook very quickly, in some cases up to 3 times faster than conventional cooking methods. More delicate vegetables like asparagus, spinach, and green beans retain their color and nutrient value better compared to boiling. Fruits like apples and pears can be cooked into sauces and compotes in minutes in the pressure cooker.
When pressure cooking fruits and vegetables, it’s important to keep in mind that the cooking time will be much shorter than recipes intended for conventional cooking. Overcooking will result in overly soft or mushy results. As a general rule, decrease any recipe’s cook times by at least half when adapting for the pressure cooker.
Legumes and Grains
Dried beans, lentils, peas and whole grains are some of the foods most commonly associated with pressure cookers. The high temperatures efficiently hydrate and soften these foods that traditionally require lengthy cooking times. Beans are done perfectly in as little as 10-15 minutes in a pressure cooker compared to 1-2 hours by conventional simmering. Tough, chewy whole grains like brown rice, barley and farro turn out light and fluffy in just a fraction of their normal cook time.
Some guidelines for cooking legumes/grains in a pressure cooker:
- Always start by rinsing and picking over beans, lentils or grains to remove any debris.
- For consistent cooking, soak beans 8-12 hours before pressure cooking.
- Add at least 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of dried beans or grains.
- Allow pressure to fully natural release, about 15 minutes, before opening the lid.
Pasta and Rice
Pasta and rice can both be cooked in a pressure cooker but need some special handling. For pasta, add the dry noodles and cooking water to the pressure cooker and cook for half the time specified on the package. Quick release the pressure immediately and drain the pasta right away or it will become mushy from overcooking. For rice, use at least a 1:1 ratio of rice to water. Allow pressure to natural release 5 minutes before opening lid and draining any excess water.
For best results, cook pasta and rice on their own rather than adding other ingredients at the same time. Combination dishes like rice pilaf may not work as well since the rice and secondary ingredients likely require different cook times.
Thick Sauces and Liquids
Thick, dense sauces may cause the pressure cooker to clog and prevent it coming up to pressure. Foods like oatmeal, split pea soup, congee, risotto, pasta sauce, and chili need to be thinned out with extra liquid to cook properly in a pressure cooker. As a general rule, sauces and liquids should be no thicker than heavy cream when adapted for pressure cooking. If reducing a sauce after cooking, start with at least double the amount of liquid called for in the original recipe.
Plain dairy products like milk, half and half, and cream can curdle when pressure cooked. Small amounts of milk or cream added near the end of cooking are usually fine. But for dishes like cheesecake or rice pudding, condensed milk is a safer choice since the higher sugar content prevents curdling. Hard cheeses like cheddar or parmesan can be added without issue. Soft fresh cheeses may melt depending on cooking time. Plain yogurt and sour cream should be added at the end of cooking for the best results.
Thickeners like flour, cornstarch, and tapioca require special handling in the pressure cooker. Flour should always be cooked in fat like butter or oil first to prevent lumps. Make a roux by cooking the flour briefly over medium heat before adding liquid. Cornstarch and tapioca can form clumps if added directly to liquid. First dissolve them in a small amount of water before adding to the pressure cooker. Add near end of cooking for best results with all starch thickeners.
Foods that are heavily breaded or fried generally do not work well in the pressure cooker. Batter and breading can become gummy and fall off. The constant condensation dripping from the lid can ruin the crispy coating on foods. attempting to pressure “fry” foods will likely lead to disappointment. For best results, deep fry or pan fry coated foods using traditional methods.
Whole eggs still in the shell should never be pressure cooked due to the risk of explosion. However eggs can be successfully cooked once cracked and mixed into dishes. Frittatas, custards, and boiled/poached eggs can all be made in a pressure cooker. The constant gentle cooking helps prevent eggs from curdling or overcooking. For egg-based dishes, a quick pressure release is recommended after cooking.
Most types of fish and shellfish cook perfectly in under 10 minutes in the pressure cooker. The timed cooking prevents overcooking delicate proteins. Fatty fish like salmon and tilapia become tender and flaky with no added liquid needed. Use a quick pressure release to prevent continuing to cook. Lean white fish and shellfish require a thin liquid like wine, broth or water to steam. As with any protein, seafood is safest when cooked to the minimum recommended internal temperature.
Never cook or reheat canned goods in a pressure cooker! The risk of botulism poisoning is very high from the low-acid, anaerobic environment of canned foods. Even commercially sterile canned products should not be cooked in a pressure cooker once opened.
Many classic desserts can be made successfully in the pressure cooker including cheesecakes, custards, puddings, and flans. The moist environment prevents the surface from drying out while cooking. Follow tried and true recipes developed specifically for pressure cookers when making desserts. Avoid very soft or airy desserts like souffles or meringues which will collapse.
While most foods can be adapted for the pressure cooker, some ingredients require special handling for best results. Pay attention to cooking times, liquid amounts and ingredient combinations when converting traditional recipes. Avoid doubling up on starch thickeners or layers of coating that may inhibit pressure cooking. With some practice, the pressure cooker can produce delicious family meals across nearly any cuisine.