...and when it is. The red float falls back down as the pressure is released. When it is back down the automatic safety lock turns off and it's safe to open the cooker.
Item: Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker
Overall Impression: This electric pressure cooker is a safe, easy, and economical tool to introduce cooks to home cooking. Its small size and lower maximum pressure, however, may prompt cooks who adopt pressure cooking to eventually graduate up to larger, more powerful stovetop models.
While Anjali and Dana reviewed their Kuhn Rikon and Fissler pressure cookers for you, I went a different direction and tried out an electric model of pressure cooker. Stovetop pressure cookers are more common and versatile, as they use the burner as their heat source and can be used as regular pots as well as pressure cookers. But the electric model is a self-contained, all-in-one cooking appliance that has a lot of advantages (and some drawbacks too).
Characteristics and Specs: The Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker is a hefty yet sleek pot that is an all-in-one pressure cooker — no stovetop heat required.
The pressure cooker has a main body and base, with a heavy-duty lid that locks in place. (The unit isn't too heavy, though; it's easy to carry in and out of the pantry and it stows easily under my storage shelves. It's a lot easier to carry, in fact, than my slow cooker.)
The exterior of the appliance is handsome brushed stainless steel, and the removable pot itself is nonstick. It holds 6 quarts, which is on the slightly smaller size for a pressure cooker; remember that most pressure cookers shouldn't be filled more than halfway or, sometimes, even just a third of the way. This pot will allow a scant pound of beans to be cooked in one session, for instance.
When in use, the lid locks securely into place, with a safety latch that engages when heating and under pressure. Only releasing the pressure to a safe level allows the latch to open; it's impossible to open when at an unsafe pressure and temperature.
Like all electric pressure cookers, the heating element is inside the cooker itself, enclosed in the bottom. It gets hot enough to sauté onions and other flavor-building ingredients, although it would be hard to brown meat since there isn't a terrible lot of surface area.
After you add your ingredients and liquid, and turn on the pressure cooker, there's a very clear menu that lets you set the cooker on LOW (6 psi) or HIGH (10 psi) for a certain amount of time. You get to just walk away at this point; the pressure cooker locks itself, and heats up to pressure. This can take anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes. Then the timing countdown begins, cooking at pressure. After this you can either use quick release, by carefully turning a valve on top to release the pressure quickly, or wait for "natural" pressure release.
Favorite details: This is an excellent pressure cooker for a newbie. It takes a lot of the hands-on attention away; you literally set it and walk away. This is very reassuring, and if safety concerns you, there's almost no way to make cooking in this unsafe or scary. I like the clear timing of the cooking and the easy settings. Even the pot itself has clear markings on it so you know exactly how full it is.
One other great safety aspect of this appliance is that the exterior doesn't get hot. The sides get a little warm, but not so hot that anyone could burn themselves, and the lid stays cool too. Of course, you should keep it away from pets and children because of the hot steam that escapes as it comes up to pressure, but I like that an accidental brush-up won't burn or blister.
Everything I've made in it so far has been wonderful (perfect basmati rice in 4 minutes? Yes thank you!). I've come very quickly to rely on it for many basic things, like braised curries, rice, and beans.
Potential problems: The main drawback to an electric pressure cooker (really any electric pressure cooker — not only this Cuisinart model) is that its maximum pressure is lower than the standard 15 psi of most stovetop models. Most recipes I've found specify 15 psi cooking pressure, and cooking times are calibrated to that. So it is a little tricky to figure out correct cooking times, which are certainly longer than others for stovetop pressure cooking. I have been relying a lot on the Cuisinart recipe booklet that came with the pressure cooker, which gives cooking times for a lot of basic foods. Even so, the learning curve has been a little confusing.
Also, when using an electric appliance, I tend to expect that everything is easy to predict and measured. But you have really no idea how long the pressure cooker will take to come up to pressure or how long it will take to release naturally. I wish there was a second read-out or countdown before and after the main pressurized cooking time, so I knew exactly when the food would be ready.
Splurge-worthy? The current Amazon price makes this a good buy, at just about $100.
Good for small kitchens? Depending on the small kitchen, this is an excellent choice. If, for instance, you have only two burners, this could be a terrific extra appliance for making entire stews, braises, and chicken stock without heating up your kitchen or monopolizing your stove.
Overall, the choice between this and a stovetop pressure cooker really comes down to your preferences and style of cooking. Are you home all afternoon, maybe even with kids who need your attention, and wanting an easy-to-set method of cooking that takes a little longer but doesn't require anything else from you? Then this is the way to go. I am certainly enjoying using it so much and looking forward to playing around with it more!
Also, for those of you trying to decide between an electric pressure cooker and a stovetop model, this in-depth comparison from Laura at Hip Pressure Cooking is very helpful:
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.