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I used to cook a lot of beans on regular pots before I switched to a Pressure cooker. On regular pots once the water is boiling I'd turn it down to simmering temperature where there are only few bubbles appearing.

My question is how much should I reduce the heat once it reaches the desired pressure? Since I can't see through the pressure cooker it is a little hard to determine. Should the water be having several bubbles like it would do if it was simmering? Or is having more than that enough? I am using Tefal Secure 5 pressure cooker if it helps Basically I do NOT wanna waste energy nor compromise the performance of the cooker.

So, at what rate should the steam escape for me to know that it is maintaining pressure without wasting unnecessary amounts of energy?

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    I am surprised by this question. Isn't the whole point of the pressure cooker to allow you to cook at a much higher heat? If you want to simmer your food, you don't need a pressure cooker. – rumtscho Jul 13 '15 at 12:15
  • Well, perhaps I didn't explain well enough :) In a normal pressure cooker, if you put the highest heat you will get - Crazy amount of bubbling at 100 degrees celcius And several bubbles at 95 degrees celcius In pressure cooker you'll get that crazy amount of bubbling at 120 degrees celcius With simmering inside a pressure cooker you will get for example 115 degrees celcius. Since beans are meant to simmer not boil for long periods of time, shouldn't I be doing the same with pressure cooker? – Joshua Jul 13 '15 at 12:17
  • The theory of simmering is that you want to avoid too high a heat, not that you want to avoid bubbles, they just happen to be a marker for the heat. Somebody else will have to answer about the practice of pressure cookers though, I don't use one. – rumtscho Jul 13 '15 at 12:40
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    I thought the idea of a pressure cooker was to reduce the cooking time by increasing pressure; so forget about simmering beans in a pressure cooker. – Max Jul 13 '15 at 13:40
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    The question isn't as unreasonable as it sounds. This is one reason why I'm a big fan of electric pressure cookers, actually; they're far easier to manage in this. Cooking at highest heat in a pressure cooker would ultimately be a waste (as you'd just be pushing steam out faster but not increasing pressure much) and might be detrimental (as you might boil all of the water off, or at least require a larger amount of water initially). Certainly many foods are much better to cook at 'low pressure' than at 'high pressure' due to the effects on texture. – Joe M Jul 13 '15 at 15:04
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In many electric pressure cookers, you have (at least) two options: "High Pressure" or "Low Pressure". This effectively controls the heat at which your food is cooked. That's due to how a pressure cooker operates. It cooks by raising the temperature of water to create steam, and then continues creating steam, which raises the pressure inside the vessel, thus raising the temperature at which water boils significantly. (See this article for some information about the science behind pressure cooking).

Now, in a stovetop pressure cooker, if you follow the instructions you'll find out that exactly what you're asking does happen: you need to reduce the heat on the stovetop once your cooker has come to the pressure you're aiming for in order to stay at that pressure. Your pressure cooker's manual should cover how to tell this; exactly what that heat is will depend on your stove's capacity. Your pressure cooker should have some variety of pressure gauge; most will have at least a ball that sits in the steam exhaust vent which, when it is at pressure, sits at the top of the vent. Once that's at the top of the vent, you are at low pressure; then you lower the heat as low as possible such that the ball stays at the top of the vent, and that's cooking at low pressure. If you need to cook at higher pressure, which will cook faster (and is necessary for some foods), you have the heat up some from that (and make sure to include enough water to produce enough steam). Here is an article that covers these basics.

For beans, you don't have to cook them very long - a couple of minutes - and you should use high pressure (whatever the 'high' pressure is for your cooker). Assuming you pre-soak, one or two minutes is long enough to cook them (at high pressure) - so you won't really need to lower the heat for very long, and in my experience it's usually hard to be there at exactly the right time to lower it (if you have a couple of toddlers underfoot in particular); don't worry if you forget or miss it, as long as you stop the cooking at the right time; overcooked beans are no fun. The higher heat isn't going to burn them (as long as you included plenty of water), it's just going to waste energy, as your pressure cooker will just give off the excess steam. (This is based on normal ranges - if you have something unusually heat-additive, including an induction burner, I don't know if it's reasonably possible to do something dangerous in one or two minutes.)

You're basically right, though, that 'simmering' is roughly what you're doing when you are using the pressure cooker; reducing the boil from high rolling boil (which produces lots of steam) to a lower boil (which produces just enough steam to offset the loss from the exhaust port). It's just a higher heat setting than normal simmering, since pressure is increasing the temperature at which water boils.

Your manual should cover how to do this; I'm not sure which product you exactly have, but look here for one example.

  • Unfortunately I don't see why most pressure cooking charts recommend at most 10 minutes for beans. I use kindey beans which are soaked at least 6-8 hours. I cook them in salted water for 30-35 minutes after which most beans are perfectly cooked but some are still nutty. In my experience some beans can be finished in 15-20 minutes. Couple of minutes is just way behind cooking it. ANd of course I use the setting 2, the highest pressure setting. My Pressure cooker is Tefal Secure 5. Its manual told me just to reduce the setting but their customer service told me to approx. halving the heat – Joshua Jul 15 '15 at 21:08
  • Are you including Natural pressure release in the time? Kidney beans for example are something like 6 minutes (soaked) under pressure, but then natural pressure release, which gets it up to the longer periods of time you're talking about. – Joe M Jul 15 '15 at 21:26
  • What exactly is it meant by natural pressure release? I pressurize the pot which takes around 5ish minutes and then cook for 30 minutes at least and then remove the pot from heat and get rid of the pressure. But why how I release pressure here after cooking would matter anyway? – Joshua Jul 15 '15 at 21:32
  • Natural pressure release means don't open the lid until the pressure has dissipated naturally - without you opening the valve. – Joe M Jul 15 '15 at 21:35
  • Well in that case, I actually let the pot sit for a minute or so and then release the valve. But i still dont get why heavily salted beans would not be done after half an hour – Joshua Jul 15 '15 at 21:36
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Joshua, you've probably already figured it out but I thought I'd jump in with more information that specifically addresses your question. It sounds like you're using a stovetop pressure cooker.

Its manual will tell you how to tell it has reached pressure: it will jingle jangle, a lid lock will come up, or a pin with bars going through it will come up to indicated how much pressure is inside. So, first check your pressure cooker manual to find out how your model indicates it has reached pressure.

You'll want to have the heat at it's highest until the cooker indicates it has reached pressure. When it has, then you turn down the heat as low as you can as long as it still maintains pressure - now for a lot of beginners (and old sages starting out with a new model) it takes a bit of tinkering the first few times to find this sweet spot.

Initially, you may not turn down the heat enough and there will be lots of vigorous steam coming out from the valve to let you know the cooker is on over-pressure and is releasing the excess (lower the heat if this happens).

Or, you may go too low, and you'll see the pressure signal start to go down or indicate there is no longer any pressure in the cooker (raise the heat if this happens).

For most spring-valve pressure cookers you can usually turn the heat down to "low" or "very low", while the jingly jangly weight-controlled cookers you'll usually turn the heat down to "medium" - they are less energy efficient.

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