Tips for Using a Pressure Cooker - Moroccan Cooking Techniques

pressure cooker
Pressure Cooker. David Bishop Inc/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Although it is far more traditional to prepare Moroccan stews in a clay tagine, many, if not the majority, of Moroccans, are much more likely to cook daily in a pressure cooker, or cocotte as it's known locally in French. It is particularly true in urban areas, where during lunch time and again in the evening, the hissing of a pressure cooker steam valve can be heard from any number of open windows as one walks along residential streets.

Pressure cookers greatly speed up meal time preparations, particularly tagine-inspired dishes, and while the earthy aroma inherent to slow-cooking in clay can't be replicated, the flavors of a pressure-cooked "tagine" are not necessarily compromised. Furthermore, a larger quantity can be prepared in a single vessel, and along with it more sauce (marqa) for sopping up with Moroccan bread.

It's worth noting that the vast majority of pressure cookers in Morocco are heavy, basic pieces of aluminum cookware without the safety features of more modern styles of pressure cookers, such as this one by Fagor.

Pressure Cooker Tips

Many of my recipes on the site explain how to prepare the dish in both a pressure cooker and tagine, but here is a summary of some basic tips and guidelines for pressure cooking. In comparison, you might want to look at Tips for Cooking in a Tagine.

  • Don't overfill the cooker. That means 1/2 full for liquids, such as when making soup, or 2/3 full when cooking meat, veggies, poultry, etc. 
  • Brown meats in oil in the pressure cooker before adding liquids.
  • You must add liquids, usually at least a cup in volume, when cooking with pressure.
  • To achieve pressure, tighten and secure the lid and place over medium-high to high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low once pressure is achieved.
  • Unlike clay tagine cooking, where meat and veggies are often started together, pressure cooking involves adding ingredients in stages to avoid overcooking softer items.
  • When interrupting cooking to add ingredients or check on the dish; always wait until the steam has stopped releasing before opening the lid. Many pressure cookers have safety features in place for this, but most Moroccan cookers do not.
  • You can prepare dishes in your pressure cooker without using pressure. It's my cookware of choice, for example, when a recipe calls for braising or cooking in a "heavy-bottomed pot."
  • Restore shine to aluminum pressure cookers by scrubbing with a steel wool soap pad; in Morocco, sabon beldi (olive oil soap) and fine steel wool do the trick.
  • You may find it makes sense to invest in more than one pressure cooker; a small one for everyday family cooking and a larger one for soups or when making extra large quantities.