Versatile and useful cooking gadgets, electric pressure cookers make wonderful braised meats, will cook beans without soaking, and are great for stocks and most one-pot soups and stews. Dishes that traditionally take a long time to cook can be made in substantially less time, and you can even start with frozen meat. Many electric pressure cookers are multifunctional (called “multicookers”) and have the ability to slow-cook, steam, and sauté. Some models will even make yogurt.
I love to cook, so I own multicookers by Instant Pot and Crock-Pot. Although I’ll never discard my slow cookers, Dutch ovens, or rice cooker, I’ve found my multicookers to be quite handy. Both are programmable, with a similar range of functions. Both have easy-to-clean removable inner pots; the Crock-Pot Express Crock’s is no-stick while the Instant Pot’s is stainless steel.
Electric pressure cookers are easy to use — just place your food in the pot along with at least a small amount of liquid, lock on the lid, and select a cooking time. The sealed cooker heats the food and liquid, which creates steam and raises the pressure inside. The cooking timer starts when the proper pressure is reached. When the cooking time has elapsed, the pot beeps to alert you, and begins slowly releasing pressure. An automatic warmer kicks in to keep the food warm until you’re ready to eat. As with stovetop pressure cookers, electric cookers have a valve that lets you bring down the pressure in about 2 minutes (known as “quick release”), or you can let the pressure drop on its own in about 20 minutes (“natural release”).
Most multicookers hold 6 quarts of food. Some units allow you to cook at high or low pressure settings; most have a maximum working pressure of around 12 pounds per square inch (psi). Water in an open pot at sea level boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, but at 10 psi it boils at 239 degrees, and at 5 psi it boils at 227 degrees — so cooking under pressure means cooking at higher temperatures than open vessels, which results in food cooking faster.
Cooking times for electric pressure cooker recipes can be up to 70 percent shorter than standard. However, this doesn’t include the time for the unit to come to pressure — and that depends on the quantity and initial temperature of the food being cooked. A full 6-quart electric cooker with room-temperature ingredients will reach pressure in about 35 minutes. If there’s only a cup of water inside, as there would be when steaming food, the time to pressure is only about 5 minutes.
For dishes that don’t take long to cook normally, the time savings can be used up waiting for the machine to come to pressure. But for foods with a long cooking time, the reduction in total preparation time can be substantial. Inexpensive, tough cuts of meat are well suited to pressure cookers, because they’re rendered tender and flavorful in much shorter cooking time than on the stovetop or in the oven.
Here are three recipes to maximize the efficiency and usefulness of an electric pressure cooker, saving you valuable time in the kitchen: