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How to Use a Pressure Cooker

If you have an old, forgotten pressure cooker at the back of your cupboard now may be the time to dust it off and enjoy fast cooking, with the advantage of retaining nutrients and enjoy perfectly cooked food. The cooker I use is the stainless steel Tower 6 litre hob based pressure cooker which has two settings and lots of capacity.  Take a look here. This is my most recent purchase and makes my old hissing, aluminium, wobbly weight pressure cooker look ancient and surprisingly small! Pressure cooking is brilliant for dried peas and beans, fresh veg, fish, and meat. It’s especially good for cheaper, tougher cuts of meat that would normally be in the oven for a couple of hours.

So how does a pressure cooker work?

Water boils at 100ºC at sea level, atmospheric pressure. If the pressure is increased the boiling point of water is higher, it’s as simple as that. My pressure cooker has two settings which are measured in pounds per square inch (psi).

Setting 1 10.1 psi above atmospheric pressure, water boils at 115ºC

Setting 2 14.5 psi above atmospheric pressure, water boils at 120ºC

For the more delicate foods I use setting 1 – carrots, potatoes, fish and fruit. Setting 2 I use for more robust ingredients such as dried peas, beans, cheaper cuts of meat, or brown rice.

Typical pressure cooking times

Per 450g


4-6 minutes

Beef brisket

15 minutes


5 minutes

Whole fish

4 minutes

Dried butter beans

20-30 minutes dependent on size

How to make pea and ham hock soup using a pressure cooker

This pea and ham soup is a family favourite, it’s quick, cheap and easy. I reckon it comes in at about 60p per very generous serving for the ingredients. Typically I make sure there’s an excess of ham which can be used in a salad, sandwich, pizza or quiche so that makes my cooking time even more economical. My pea and ham soup is literally just two ingredients and seasoning. I use the traditional dried marrowfat peas for this dish – these are also used for traditional mushy peas, so you get the idea that this is not your weird frozen pea version!

First I cook a ham hock or gammon joint separately. I give the ham about 12 minutes to 450g. Using the stock produced from the ham I soak the marrowfat peas in this overnight. Some say that soaking is unnecessary when pressure cooking, but I prefer this method as marrowfat peas are so big I think soaking saves a disappointment as otherwise they may not cook well. For other smaller dried beans and peas I’m happy to use the no soak route.

After soaking in stock I cook the peas for approx 20 minutes. Once the cooker has depressurised I check the peas are thoroughly cooked. They do not look pretty at this stage but don’t worry! After letting it cool a little I carefully use a wand blender to make a really smooth soup then I add the chopped ham and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche after making sure the ham is properly warmed through. If not, I gently heat on the hob whilst stirring. Not only is this delicious, thick and filling soup high on my comfort food scale, but the economy of the ingredients and cooking energy saved makes this a complete winner.

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