Canning season is in full swing for many people. AnswerLine gets many calls about using a pressure cooker for canning. A pressure cooker is NOT designed for canning but it has many other great uses. I have friends who use theirs weekly for the time-saving convenience. Many of us are looking for that on busy weeknights!
Pressure cooking uses water or another liquid heated to boiling to produce steam. Water, as you know, boils at 212 degrees F. Steam is hotter than boiling water and can get up to @250 degrees F. Trapping that steam puts pressure on the food in the pan which cooks it 3-10 times faster.
Less liquid is required when pressure cooking as compared to conventional cooking. You will want to use at least one cup of liquid but never fill the pressure cooker more than half full with liquid. You can always use more liquid than the recipe calls for but never less. You can fill the cooker up to 2/3 full with food but not over that. If you are cooking foods that expand significantly (rice, beans, grains, soups) do not fill the cooker more than half full. The steam needs space to build up in the cooker.
Begin cooking over high heat for the pressure to build up then lower the heat so pressure is maintained without exceeding it. Timing is as important as building up the steam when pressure cooking. I recommend you set a digital kitchen timer for the recommended cooking time. It is always better to undercook than overcook. You can always cook in additional 1-5 minute intervals if the food needs to be cooked longer.
Foods should be cut into uniform sized pieces for best results. If you are cooking meat, potatoes, and vegetables start with the meat. Cook until half done, release the pressure and add the potatoes. Cook them for 2/3 their recommended time, release the pressure and lastly add the quicker cooking vegetables.
To release the pressure from the cooker, follow the manufacturer’s directions for your particular model. Some recommend the Natural Release method and some the Quick Release method.
Pressure cooking is virtually fat-free since the steam cooks the food so no added fats need to be used. The quick cooking in an almost airless environment helps retain nutrients and the high temperature steam intensifies the flavors so less seasoning needs to be used.
Pressure cookers are best suited for cooking foods that are naturally tough or require long cooking times but you can cook almost anything in them. Just remember – pressure cookers are NOT for canning! Pressure canners must be large enough to hold 4 quart sized jars!