Lorna Sass' 5 Pressure Cooking Essentials

Expert Essentials

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When it comes to pressure cooking, there is no doubt that Lorna Sass is reigning queen. She's been writing about pressure cooking since 1989 when her book Cooking Under Pressure was released. It has since gone through 24 printings and was brought back in 2009 in a 20th Anniversary edition. She went on to write Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure, The Pressured Cook, and Pressure Perfect and is still considered to be the authority on pressure cooking today. Read on for Lorna's five essentials for pressure cooking, with a few bonus tips!

1. Pressure Cooking is Safe!

"Be sure to choose a model with two or three safety backup systems, which will release any excess pressure should you forget to turn down the heat thereby preventing any accidents."

2. Think Braises.

Most dishes that cook well in liquid are a natural choice for the pressure cooker. "Braises, soups and stews, and dense ingredients like potatoes, dried beans, root vegetables and artichokes all do beautifully in a pressure cooker—and in one-third or less the standard cooking time." Lorna advises to be careful not to put food with a high sugar content, such as tomatoes, on the bottom of the pot. "It's easy for vegetables with a high sugar content to scorch when you're bringing the cooker up to high pressure over high heat, so if a recipe tells you to put them on top, be sure to follow those instructions and don't stir them in."

3. Think Beyond Braises!

"One of my favorite things to cook in the pressure cooker is risotto. It's done in 4 minutes, with only a little stirring in the end. You can do desserts in the pressure cooker such as cheesecake. And you can cook a whole meal using the layering technique."

An example of layered cooking is to pour an inch of water in the bottom of the cooker, set quartered potatoes in the water, set a meatloaf pressed into a steamer basket on the potatoes, and then place vegetables wrapped in foil on top of the meatloaf. "The whole 3-part meal takes only takes 13 minutes under pressure!"

4. Add Freshness at the End of Cooking.

Do not add fresh herbs or tender greens such as arugula or spinach at the start of cooking. "The high heat of the pressure cooker will destroy them and their flavor will be lost. Add them after you have released the pressure," advises Lorna. Stirring in touch of fresh green flavor at the end adds vibrant taste and color.

5. Have Fun!

"I still get three or four emails a week from people who are afraid of pressure cookers. I always tell them to relax!" says Lorna. "Pressure cooking is a lot of fun and once you understand the basics, you'll be fine."

Lorna offered additional tips, too:

Little known fact: With pressure cooking, if you increase the quantity, you do not have to increase the cooking time. Once the pot has been brought up to pressure, the amount of time needed to cook the food is the same, whether you are cooking risotto for two or risotto for eight.

What to look for when shopping for a pressure cooker: Again, a pressure cooker should have two or three safety back-up features, as well as a solid construction. Skip aluminum and go for 18/10 stainless steel. A well constructed base is critical — look for one with copper or aluminum sandwiched in between steel. Lorna prefers stovetop (non-electric) pressure cookers because they're more versatile. With electric cookers, you don't have the option of doing a quick-release of pressure by running the pot under cold water.

What size? "If you are only going to have one pressure cooker pot in your kitchen, it should at minimum be a 6-quart pot for maximum versatility. If you have the storage space, go for an 8-quart model. Since pressure cookers are only filled 2/3 to 3/4 full, you'll need that extra room if you want to make larger quantities of stock and beans. If you have the space, a smaller 2 1/2 to 4-quart secondary pot is nice."

More about cooking beans: "Remember, when cooking beans you should let the pressure cooker naturally release pressure. If you use one of the quick release methods, such as running cold water over the top, you risk having the beans split." Additionally, if you open the pressure cooker and find that the beans aren't quite done, you can just continue to cook them (not under pressure) on the stovetop for a few more minutes.

(Image: Pressure Cooking with Lorna Sass)