Common Mistakes in Pressure Cookery

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What's on This Page?

Why is my meat dry and`tough?

Know The Rules

Over Cooking

Overcooking Produces Unsatisfactory Results

Over Heating

Those Thick Sauces

Incorrect Pressure Release Methods

Incorrect Cooking Methods

Using Incorrect Amount Of Liquid

Improper Food Preparation

Over-Filling the Pressure Cooker I



Know The Rules

There are a few special rules to keep in mind when pressure cooking meats.

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced pressure cooker user, incorrect timing is the most common mistake made in pressure cooking, with most foods being overcooked. All too often pressure cooker users fail to follow recipe directions, or use someone's "heirloom" recipe that started off with the wrong cooking time, or they don't even use a recipe and just take a wild guess at the cooking time. Another mistake is the false assumption many users have in thinking that they must submerge everything underwater and boil it in the pressure cooker.

Overcooked Meats

In ordinary cooking, when a cut of meat is braised, the longer it cooks, the more tender it becomes. In the pressure cooker something quite different happens. Many people forget that meat becomes tender in one-third the time, and often cook meats two and even three times longer than needed.

Properly cooked at 15psi, and using the correct pressure release method, a roast should come out of the pressure cooker, tender, juicy, and flavorful in 20 to 30 minutes. If the cooking continues past the recommended cooking time, the meat passes from fork tenderness to a stage of toughness, and if cooking still continues, the overcooking will eventually make the meat tender again.

So the first key to successful pressure cooking meats is to get the timing right by using a reliable recipe of my Cooking Time Charts. The second key is understanding the effect of each of the three (or two in the case of electric appliances) pressure release methods on the texture and tenderness of meat.

Why is my meat so dry and`tough?

It sounds odd, but even when meat is cooked in a broth, it can become dried out, tough and stringy if it is overcooked in a pressure cooker. As meat cooks, the muscle fibers shorten in both length and width and eventually squeeze out all the fat and juices they normally hold. This makes meat dry and tough. See more...

Another factor the contributes to dry, tough meats is using the incorrect method to depressurize the cooker. The rule of thumb is to use the Natural Release Method for most cuts of meat, especially larger cuts like a roast, to allow the meat to finish cooking and complete the process.

If you have inadvertently overcooked meat to the point where it is dried out or tough, the solution is to return the meat to pressure and cook it about 10 minutes longer, or until the texture is easily shredded with a fork. The meat can then be used for sandwiches, stews, casseroles or soups.

The first mistake of slightly overcooking will leave the meat tough, dry and relatively tasteless. When this happens, most cooks wrongly assume the meat is undercooked and proceed to cook it even longer, reinforcing the idea that the pressure cooker needs 45 to 60 minutes... or even longer, to produce tender meats. Actually this is a good way to recover, or salvage, that meat, but in reality it only compounds the original error.

A second mistake of lengthy overcooking actually corrects the first mistake and eventually results in a final stage of tenderness again by breaking down the meat fiber to such a degree that it seems tender, when it's really just falling apart. The third mistake that also adds to the problem of meat toughness, is using the quick-release or cold water release. Even if the meat is properly cooked, all that effort can be ruined if the pressure cooker is rapidly depressurized rather than allowed to depressurize slowly using the natural release method.

Inside, the pressure drops rapidly from 15psi down to zero in just minutes. This causes the meat fibers to compress, squeezing out fats and juices, and that leaves the meat tough, dry and stringy. Although the meat relaxes somewhat after a 10 minute resting period, it is never as tasty and tender as when the pressure comes down naturally.


While edible, this overcooked meat is tasteless because all the nutrients, juices and fats that provide flavor, have been cooked out and end up in the broth or gravy. This is fine, and it will make a delicious sauce or gravy that will improve the the flavor of the meat. A zippy barbecue sauce will do the same thing, but the nutritional content of the meat is probably the equivalent of feeding your family a piece of cardboard.

Over Cooking

clock.gif Always use a recipe, especially if you are a novice. Even experienced users should refer to the Cooking Time Charts for best results. How do you tell if meat is over or under cooked? If the meat is tough and dry, it's overcooked. If it is tough and moist, it is undercooked

Overcooking not only produces mushy foods, but a loss of nutrition. All the good stuff you want your family to have is cooked away and you cheat them of the very things they need for growth and good health. Overcooking also wastes energy, which is money out of your pocket that you needlessly 'give' to the utility company, not just for longer cooking times but the additional energy needed to cool down a hot kitchen. Most importantly, overcooking wastes your own valuable time when you might be doing something other than cooking.

Many cooks rely on heirloom recipes handed down from their mother or grandmother, and all too often these recipes were "homemade" and never followed the correct cooking times in the first place. Take a look at the cooking times of your old favorites and compare them to the timing charts or the cooking times used in similar pressure cooking recipes of a more current date. Some readers tell me they have mistakenly used recipes from a nonstandard cookbook intended for a pressure cooker that used less than the standard 15psi. Of course, when they tried these recipes in their standard pressure cooker at 15psi, the food was overcooked and turned to mush.

Many pressure cooker users have a tendency to throw everything in the cooker at one time, but most combination dishes cannot be cooked at the same time. When making beef stew for example, the beef takes 15 minutes to cook, but the vegetables need only 5 minutes. The correct method is to partially cook the meat for 10 minutes first, using the phased cooking method, Use the quick or cold water release to open the lid and then add the vegetables to the cooker. Return to pressure for the last 5 minutes needed to cook the vegetables and use the natural release method.

Solution: Always use a recipe with accurate cooking times. Don't guess on the time, while a couple of extra minutes added to a tough roast that cooks for 25 minutes will not change the results that much, even just a minute more than necessary for shorter cooking foods like vegetables can result in soft or mushy food, great for babies but not exactly what you want for supper.

If you are an experienced pressure cooker user and do not need to use a recipe, refer to the Timing Charts to double check the cooking times for the ingredients used. Become familiar with different cooking methods as well, read about Interrupted Cooking, and Tiered Cooking are methods used in pressure cooking to achieve the best results with combination dishes or foods with different cooking times.

It is important to use some kind of a timer that will alert you when to turn off the heat, use the timer on your stove, or one of those inexpensive bell timers so you won't forget. Try one of the new digital timers that you can wear around your neck, that way you can leave the kitchen and still be reminded.


Overcooking Produces Unsatisfactory Results

Longer cooking times will affect the final result of the foods you cook by changing the taste, appearance and texture, producing an unsatisfactory and disappointing final dish. Meats especially, can become dried out from over cooking when using a pressure cooker. This true of standard pressure cookers using 15psi, and even more so if you are using a non standard model using less than 15psi because it takes longer to finish cooking. This also applies to electrics that are notorious for cooking at temps that are too high, and when users of jiggle top pressure cookers let the pressure rise so that the regulator weight is spinning rapidly.

To avoid overcooking, test for doneness by using the interrupted cooking method near the end of the cooking time stated in the recipe. Use the quick (best method) or cold water (2nd best method) to release pressure. Then use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. For example; at 160ºF (71ºC), a roast will be cooked to medium. At this temperature, some of the tougher connective tissue breaks down to gelatin, which helps “lubricate” and tenderize the meat.


Over Heating

Understand how your cooker works. Many pressure cooker owners cook with the heat too high. Foods may be scorched or burned. Overheating shortens the life of gaskets and rubber parts and you will have the added expense of replacing them more often. Overheating can cause heat tint on stainless steel, leaving a permanent, iridescent blue discoloration, and while this doesn't damage the cookware it is unsightly.

Overheating is a problem for novices as well as many longtime pressure cooker users who make the mistake of cooking with too high a heat after the pressure cooker comes to pressure. Overheating results in over-pressure, and that could trigger the safety release methods on your cooker. See how to adjust and maintain the heat. Do the Test Drive until you get it just right.

A 2nd generation cooker has a pressure indicator to show when pressure is reached. Overheating and the resulting over pressure is almost impossible with the new 2nd generation cookers. High heat triggers the first stage safety release and alerts you to the problem so you can lower the heat.

fire.gif Overheating is a common error for users of the "jiggle top" style pressure cookers. Once pressure is up and you have correctly lowered the heat, the pressure regulator should rock only 3-5 times a minute . If your "jiggler" is constantly in motion, rocking franticly, it's trying to reduce that over pressure before the blow-out plug pops.


Those Thick Sauces

Plain tomatoes withstand the pressure cooking processes very well. Recipes using thicker tomato products and tomato paste have a tendency scorch on the bottom when using the normal high heat setting needed to pressurize the cooker. This is caused by the combination of added sugars which caramelize, and the density of the sauce which makes it harder, and therefore takes longer, for heat to penetrate.

You can prevent scorching by adding the tomato products last. Brown the meats first, saute the aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices, add any other ingredients and then stir in the water and flavoring liquids. When everything is in the pressure cooker, you can begin to add the tomato product in layers on top of the meats and vegetables already in the cooker.

Beginning with any tomato juice, or plain tomatoes that are packed in their natural juices without a thick sauce, like whole, chopped, cut, sun dried,sliced or stewed tomatoes. Do not stir.

Next add the thicker tomato products such as crushed, diced, salsas, , and sauces. Again, do not stir.

Lastly, add the dense tomato puree or paste. I recommend first mixing these products with an equal amount of plain water so they with be more evenly distributed over the top of the other ingredients when you add it to the pressure cooker. Once again, do NOT stir!

Lock the lid in place and bring to pressure over high heat as usual. The meats, vegetables and liquids on the bottom will heat up first and serve as a buffer zone to keep the tomato products from scorching as the pressure cooker goes through the pressurization process. As soon as the cooker is at full pressure, its very important to reduce the heat to the lowest setting to prevent over heating that may scorch the foods on the bottom.

Time and release method according to the recipe, and when the lid is removed, then you can stir the sauce, blending all the different layers together. Simmer the sauce over a low heat for a few minutes using a regular lid to allow the flavors to meld and then serve.

Incorrect Pressure Release Methods

Use the correct method of releasing pressure for best results. All pressure cooker recipes should state the best way for dropping the pressure for that particular dish. Understand the three methods of pressure release, and follow the directions for best results. Your cooker will remain hot for a long time, and foods will continue cooking inside the pot until the heat has diminished. While this is excellent for finishing large cuts of meat and soups for example, delicate foods like fish or tender-crisp veggies will be overcooked and do best when the cold water release method is used to stop the cooking process immediately. This is one of the major drawbacks facing owners of electric pressure cooker who have no means of stopping the cooking any faster than the time it takes for the electric heating elements to cool.

Incorrect Cooking Method

dotfood_drink.jpg Many people are surprised learn there are several different methods used in pressure cookery. . Most users only learn one method and never fully utilize the full potential of their cooker. The pressure cooker cooks with steam heat where a small amount of water is used to generate steam which produced pressure to rapidly cook food, this is the method used most often in pressure cooker recipes. Some users mistakenly "boil" everything, drowning foods under water results loss of nutrients and vitamins, and lengthier the cooking times as well as increased fuel costs. Become familiar with all the cooking methods used in pressure cookery,besides steaming and boiling try my PIP (Pan In the Pot) cooking method, Infusion Cooking, or using Flavoring Liquids.

Using Incorrect Amount Of Liquid

All pressure cookers must have a minimum amount of liquid to build pressure. Check your owner's manual to see the amount recommended by the manufacturer. In general, a jiggle top model requires 1 cup, and a spring valve model uses 1/2 cup. These amounts are sufficient for about the first 15 minutes of cooking time, beyond that the cooker will require more liquid. Use the Test Drive to determine how much water your cooker uses. Using more than the recommended amount will result in longer times for the cooker to come to pressure and destroys more nutrients and increases fuel costs.

It is not necessary to drown meats or vegetables in water or other liquids unless you are using the infusion cooking method. In pressure cookery, we generally want to use the active steam under pressure to cook foods because it preserves the most vitamins and nutrients. That's not only good nutrition, but it's also economical.


Improper Food Preparation

trivia.gif A pressure cooker is a wonderful appliance, and a great addition to any kitchen, but foods must be properly prepared for the best results. Most meats should be at least partially thawed and browned first. To have mixed foods finish cooking at the same time they must have the same cooking times. To cook mixed foods that have slightly different cooking times you can 'fudge' a little by varying the size of the pieces- larger pieces for the quicker cooking foods and smaller pieces for the foods needing a little longer cooking times. Use the Interrupted Cooking Method for foods that have very different cooking times.

Over-Filling the Pressure Cooker

The pressure cooker should only be filled 2/3 full for most cooking purposes. The remaining space is need to generate steam to build pressure. When cooking foods that they froth or foam, such as dried beans, fruits like apples or rhubarb, or pasta, only fill the pressure cooker half-full. Using 1 tablespoon. of light cooking oil will help minimize foaming. When cooking liquids, such as stocks, broths, soups or beverages the cooker should only be half-full.

Some pressure cookers have a max fill mark etched on the inside of the pot and this is a great asset, but unfortunately most don't have this feature. You can determine the 2/3 fill of your cooker by filling it with water and then equally dividing that water into 3 containers. Now pour 2 of the containers back into the cooker and note the measurement of the water level inside your cooker using a ruler. For a quick way to mark the two fill levels, place a long-handled stainless steel or wooden cooking spoon into the measured water in pressure and then scratch a mark for each level.



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