Pressure Cooker Heat Control - What To Look For - Pressure Cooker Cooking Blog at - 250717

Pressure Cooker Cooking

Pressure Cooker Heat Control - what to look for 
Sep. 20, 2011 12:46 pm 
Updated: Sep. 20, 2011 12:58 pm
Ideally, stove-top pressure cookers (PCs) should come with a gage so that you can easily monitor what is going on before, during, and after the cooking process. Unfortunately, commonly available PCs do not. Instead, we need to guess what to look for in order to make adjustments. This article will help you reduce your guess-work.

My observations are based on using a Fagor Dual stove-top PC, which features a high, low, and no-pressure valve. While you might not have the same brand or features, some of my observations are universal. Hopefully, they will give you ideas on how to conduct your own observations if you currently find your PC's heat control issues confusing, or if you haven't yet used your PC because you feel apprehensive.

Pressure cooking involves three phases: Pre-pressure, Pressure, and Released Pressure. To better understand how your PC works during each of these three phases, examine the underside of your lid in relationship to its top.

In my case, Picture 1 shows the underside and top of my Fagor Dual's lid. To test the properties of the two components seen on the underside, I actually cupped my mouth around each one and blew into it, feeling for where my breath escaped on the other side. The reason I went to all this trouble was that I was curious as to why, when I would start up my PC, steam formed under the handle (Picture 2), and why, after the PC achieved pressure, that steaming stopped. (What did it all mean?)

Pictures 2 and 3 show what you might see before pressure is achieved in your PC. Depending on the amount of steam released during this pre-pressure sealing phase, water might puddle on your stovetop.

On my PC, a pressure indicator pops up when pressure is achieved (Picture 4). Once popped up, this regulator seals all air flow from inside the PC. At this point, steam stops appearing from the edge of the handle.
After the regulator plugs the air flow, steam begins escaping from an appropriate pressure vent (Picture 5).  You might only have one setting which you either set up or release. I have two, with #2 commanding the highest pressure. At this point in the cooking process, watch for a steady, smooth release of steam (accompanied by a soft hiss) to take place at the appropriate outlet. It does not happen immediately, but should within a short period. Immediately after experiencing this, lower the heat and/or transfer the PC to a heat diffuser, which you might need for ingredients such as rice.
Too Much Heat: If a strong cloud of steam begins to be released from the vent under observation, accompanied by a loud hiss or rattle, the heat under the pressure cooker is too high. Reduce the heat and continue to observe the vent's behavior until the right balance is achieved.

Too Little Heat: If the heat is lowered before the appropriate amount of steam is released and/or the PC is moved to a diffuser prematurely, there is a possibility that pressure will be lost and the pressure indicator will sink. Raise the heat, and begin observing again!
As the purpose of using a PC is to reduce cooking time, I recommend bringing the liquid used in the cooking process to a boil prior to locking on the lid. From that point, it will take only a minute or so to bring the PC to pressure. If you don't do this, you could wait as long as 15 minutes for this to happen, during which time you'd have to hang around the PC until the final heat adjustments are made.

When you are done cooking, reduce the pressure in one of three ways before removing the lid. The fastest way is to turn the PC's pressure valve to a setting known as fast release. This lets out a strong jet of steam after which, for all intents and purposes, you are done.

Another is to cool the PC by placing it in a sink and running water over it. I am not fond of this method because I don't like carrying an exceptionally hot and heavy pot anywhere. I am also not good at tilting a heavy pot as might be required.

The third procedure is to just let the pot sit, letting it cool and depressurize on its own. Depending on the volume being cooked, however, this can take 15 to 20 minutes (maybe more). If you choose the third method, condensation forms on the inside of the lid (Picture 6). In this case, you must be careful when opening the lid so that hot liquid does not splash on you. This is not difficult to do, but you need to be aware of it.

Should you buy an electric pressure cooker? My understanding is that electric PCs take more time to cook and that they might not bring the PC up to its highest temperature. That said, if you don't want to make cooking adjustments based on observations, such as described above, you might prefer an electric version, and I can't say as I'd blame you.

If truly fast cooking is your goal (I like dinner prepped, cooked, and served in a half-hour and not one second longer), a stove-top PC is the way to go. Your only issue with a manual model, however, is that you have to interpret what your PC is doing by sight and sound, and not by gage.

Oops! Picture 7 demonstrates what a PC looks like when it is improperly set up. In this case, steam is escaping around the gasket because the pressure lock was not closed. This could also happen if the gasket was worn out, or the lid was not placed properly on the pot.

1 - This is a Fagor Dual pressure cooker lid valve assembly.
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2 - Pre-pressure behavior on the Fagor causes steam to escape.
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3 - Depending on amount, pre-pressure steam might create a puddle on your range top.
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4 - When pressure is achieved on a Fagor, steam no longer appears under the handle.
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5 - This is the Fagor's steam vent chamber, where pressurized steam escapes.
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6 - Depending on the length of time a PC remains covered when done, lot of condensation forms.
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7 - Oops! This is what an improperly sealed pressure cooker looks like.
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About Me
My name is Karen Little. I'm a travel writer (see and adult kick scooter evangelist ( My current love is going sightseeing around the USA on my trusty kick scooter and encouraging others to do the same!
My favorite things to cook
I became a vegan (vegetarian) in January 2011, then switched to being a modified vegetarian in August. While I still primarily eat vegetarian meals, I now eat meat a few times a week. That said, I enjoy vegetable and grain-based meals very much. They are great on the tummy as well as the budget.
My favorite family cooking traditions
My mom's favorite dishes included hotdogs, baloney, and undercooked chicken. My mother-in-law's favorite dish was pot roast. As I grew older, my favorite foods were all served in fast-food restaurants. I now live somewhat near "Carlos Bakery" (owned by "The Cake Boss") in Hoboken, NJ. I would regularly buy Bear Claws there, but can't because of all the tourists vying to get in front of me. TIP: If you can actually get in Carlos Bakery, make sure you leave with a box full of fresh Bear Claws.
My cooking triumphs
I am currently excited about using a pressure cooker.
My cooking tragedies
Happily, I don't have any tragedies, but you never know what Anthony Bourdain would say about my culinary skills. Then again, considering the types of things he eats from street vendors, maybe he'd be really pleased.
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