A pressure cooker reaches cooking temperatures above the boiling point of water (212 F. or 100 C.). The American standard for high pressure limit is 15 psi; the European standard is 1 bar, or 14.6 psi. Stovetop pots tended to go to those limits, but many model did not. Stovetop pots were the standard for most recipes until electric pressure cookers were common. The stovetop pot requires the cook’s attention: to watch the pot and turn the stove down when operating pressure is reached, and then to turn off the heat and to release pressure.
Pressure cookers use high heat to get food to a cooking temperature and build pressure; low heat to maintain heat and pressure. Most devices have low and high pressure settings which require control of the heat to get the device to hold the pressure stated in a recipe. Pressure cooking involves time to bring water to a boil and more time to reach cooking temperature. The food is cooking all the time. Cookbooks for pressure cookers assume a period to get to cooking pressure, and state the cooking time as the period under operating pressure. The real cooking time is longer.
Electric pressure cookers, with some exceptions (Instant Pot began selling a Max model said to operate at the standard pressure in 2018), cook at lower pressure and temperature than the upper limit(s); but above the boiling point. Laura Pazzaglia’s Hip Pressure Cooking FAQ observes that “Electric pressure cookers build pressure up to 15 psi but then maintain a lower pressure during the cooking … the “operating pressure” is 11.6 even though the cooker reaches 15 psi while it’s building pressure. ‘Operating Pressure’ is the true pressure at which an electric pressure cooker cooks“.
Laura Pazzaglia’s Hip Pressure Cooking site has a FAQ which includes the pressure/temperature graph. The lower pressures of electric pressure cookers require an adjustment to cooking times from standard recipes. Laura Pazzaglia has charts on a cooking times page at her Hip Pressure Cooking site. Her charts recognize that there are differences between stovetop and electric machines and different brands and machines by leaving some parameters within ranges. Some writers provide notes about performance on some recipes in specific devices.
An electric pressure cooker has an outer shell, a heating element, an inner pot, a sealing lid and a control panel. The device turns the heating element off and on to maintain pressure and temperature. Most modern machines have microprocessors.
An electric pressure cooker provides the option of cooking without the pressure sealing lid using a saute setting (or any hot setting that can be activated without locking the lid) . Some have multiple saute settings, some have only one saute setting. This is a way to use the device to cook some ingredients (e.g. softening onions and “blooming” spices and garlic and ginger) before filling the cooking pot and starting the pressure cooker. Using these settings to cook ingredients that have to be removed and added later is less convenient – it may be better to use the pressure cooker pot for other prep steps and pressure cooking and manage the saute item in a skillet or wok on the stove. An electric pressure cooker is narrow and tall, and not a useful skillet. The saute setting also provides the option of continuing cooking sfter the pressure cooking has ended – some final simmering to reduce a dish or cook ingredients added after the pressure cooking.
The popularity of Instant Pots inspired a boom in books and ebooks of Instant Pot recipes. An “Instant Pot” recipe should work in any electric pressure cooker. Instant Pot and electric pressure cooker recipes have to be adjusted for stovetop standard machines (and the epcs that achieve stovetop standard pressure).
Many electric pressure cooker books focus on pressure cooking as an alternative to using stovetop vessels and other specialty devices. An electric pressure cooker will do rice, for instance, on a pressure cooker setting – no need to play with control panel or figure out the rice setting on machines that offer that setting.
There are ways to mix and match vessels and techniques. Use the pressure cooker or rice cook to do rice and do a stir fry. Or do rice in a pot on the stovetop and dal in the pressure cooker. It depends on the availabe tools and ingredients, and appetite.
Recipe books for pressure cookers, epcs and epc multicookers:
- Cooking Under Pressure (1989) by Lorna J. Sass (web site);
- hip Pressure Cooking (2014) by Laura D.A. Pazzaglia (hippressurecooking.com);
- Vegan Under Pressure (2016) by Jill Nussinow;
- Dinner in an Instant (2017) by Melissa Clark;
- Multicooker Perfection (2018) by Cook’s Illustrated/ATK for electric pressure cookers with multicooker features; not to be confused with the meagre ATK Pressure Cooker Perfection (2013);
- Madhur Jaffrey’s Instantly Indian Cookbook (2019) an adaptation of Madhur Jaffrey’s books introducing and adapting techniques and recipes from the Indian subcontinent to English speaking cooks.