Friday, September 7, 2012

Kitchen Utensils - 101 - Pressure Cooker

When someone traveling to the US from India asks me what is the one utensil they need to bring with them my answer invariably is you guessed it - a pressure cooker. It is equivalent to having 3-4 different kinds of dishes in one. Besides taking half the time to cook compared to an open vessel the pressure cooker is also convenient for sautéing, steaming, cooking and roasting.

Cooking rice and lentils, making curries, making biryani or other mixed rice dishes, roasting vegetables or meat, steaming vegetables or idli all are easily accomplished using the pressure cooker.

While pressure cookers are making their appearance in stores here in the US, the variety of sizes and types that are available in India is far more superior. Most of us of a certain age are familiar with a cooker exploding it's contents because of built in pressure. The same physics that makes cooking faster also lends itself to built in pressure. Put that fear to rest, the pressure cookers of today have safety features like pressure release valves which prevent the contents of the cooker from exploding. I have not seen anything explode in my kitchen over the past 15 years I have been cooking.

Aluminum Cooker

When you are shopping for a cooker of course you look for the size and the shape. One other feature you want to look for is the material that it is made of. I own both stainless steel and aluminum cookers.

Stainless Steel Cooker

The stainless steel is heavier with a base that retains lot more heat and cooking is faster. While this is durable and sturdy and perhaps perfect for certain cooking there is always the problem of food sticking to the bottom if you are going to cook food directly in the cooker.

Pressure Pan

So here is the general rule of thumb that I follow,
If cooking with a vessel insert I use the stainless pressure cooker but if I am cooking directly in the cooker like making a rice dish or a curry I use the aluminum pressure cooker.

The cooker capacity is another variable you want to look at. I have 3 pressure cookers and a pressure pan with capacities of 8, 5 and 3 liters. An 5 liter cooker is ideal for a family of 4. While an 8 liter cooker is big it comes in handy when you want to steam or cook multiple items at the same time and also for a 4 level idli mould to fit in.

cooker lid with gasket inserted cooker lid and the stem where the weight is inserted
gasket weights and pressure valve

While purchasing your first pressure cooker make sure you buy the inset vessels and the ildi maker that go in the cooker. These days you can buy puttu maker that go in the cooker as well. Anything that can be steamed can go in the cooker.

multi deck steamer with no holes, rice in one, lentils in another etc., idli steamer
steamer basket vessel that goes inside the cooker
puttu steamer, this one has holes in the bottom mutlti shaped vessels that go in the cooker

While Indians have known for a long time the benefits of using a pressure cooker for quick and easy cooking, Americans are just now waking up to the possibility. They have learned that cooking beans and lentils is done in a jiffy which take forever on the stove top and switching to cooking meats in the pressure cooker which took the better part of the day when done in the oven make for far lesser time spent in the kitchen and not to mention the savings in fuel.

Just follow the general guidelines like keeping enough water in the cooker while steaming and while cooking you will have a joyous time using the cooker to prepare foods quickly and with a minimum of fuss.


  1. I have a pressure cooker from here which i use almost eveyr day for soup etc....but this year when a cousin came here i asked sis to send me a very small indian cooker, and i am so happy with it as i can cook daal etc in them.

  2. you are absolutely rite.... This is a Queen in the kitchen...

    1. Queen would be the right word to describe it.

  3. I didn't know there was a puttu maker that could go in the pressure cooker. Is that the one with four cylindrical containers in your photo block? Guess I'll be looking for it now. The dish with the holes in it is a steamer?

    1. Sra, Yes that is a putty maker is the cylindrical one. I can't believe that Coimbatore had something that Chennai didn't. Yes that steamer is very useful.

  4. very nice ode to pressure cooker. yes, puttu maker is new to me too. So jealous that you have 3 different cookers with one pan steamer. I am juggling most in my sturdy cooker, but now think its time for our family to get another perhaps a smaller one.

  5. I own 3 pressure cookers in different sizes and metals (aluminium, stainless steel and hard anodized) and can't imagine life without them. Just one tip for ur readers that has helped me keep my aluminium pressure cooker sparking clean as new - scrub the exterior with a lime after juice is squeezed or tamarind fibers once pulp is squeezed and then wash with warm water. Then plop the lime or tamarind inside with water and put pressure lid on, pressure cook for 1 whistle.

  6. Got those accessories from coimbatore? May i know in which shop you have purchased those steamer baskets and puttu maker?

  7. Dhivya, I think I got the puttu maker either in Kamala Stores or the one near Mahaveers in Gandhipuram. The steamer basket I am not sure, my mom probably bought those in Erode. I am assuming you are talking about the one with the holes in them.

  8. please read my pressure cooker reviews, gets special promo today

  9. There is a pressure cooker called electric pressure cooker. It works on electricity. No need to put weight or wait for whistles. There are several buttons like, rice, idli, briyani, sundal etc. once you put the ingredients and press the touch button , hoopla, everything is over in ten to twenty minutes. The quality of rice is very good irrespective of the fact what amount of water you add.Pongal tastes very well. This is a digitilized cooker and every thing works well.

    1. Thanks for the info and good to know that electric cookers have gotten sophisticated. I purposely left out talking about the electric cooker because it is not a "pressure" cooker. I have one and though it is easy and serves a purpose. For cooking lentils, beans and whole host of other Indian recipes nothing can beat the pressure cooker.


Thanks for stopping by. Appreciate you taking the time.
Comments embedded with links, spam and in poor taste will not be published.