Posted by: lornasass | October 9, 2011


My sweetie Michael, who shops in Indian groceries with the thoroughness that I reserve for consignment shops, recently discovered a spice blend called Sambhar Masala and gifted it to me.

What caught his eye was not so much the spice blend itself,  but the cooking instructions on the back of the package that read:  “Cook three tbsps. of tuvar dal in two and a half cups of water till 3-4 whistles in a pressure cooker.”

A whistling pressure cooker???  I’d seen these instructions before in Indian cookbooks.

Some of you who have read the introductions to my pressure cooker books may remember that I was introduced to pressure cooking when my mother brought a cooker back from India around 1986.  It was a cheap, tinny thing and I never got to try it, having been seduced quite quickly by the high-end cookers that were already available in the States.

After some sleuthing, I discovered that many cookers made in India have jiggle-top-style pressure regulators.  Once the pressure in up, the cooker toots a whistling sound.  Then the cook turns down the heat and the cooker is designed to repeatedly whistle at regular intervals.  Indian cooks listen out for the whistles and time their dishes accordingly.

I’m a person who reveres silence, so although I’m charmed by the notion of a pressure cooker that whistles, I don’t think I’d want to own one.  But I’m sure other folks feel differently about cooking sounds.  As a matter of fact, when COOKING UNDER PRESSURE first came out in 1989, I remember being on a radio show touting the newly designed, safe cookers–making a special point about how quiet they were.  A listener called in and said rather adamantly that she was not in favor of quiet cookers because one of the fondest childhood memories was the chuga-chuga sound of her mom’s cooker on the stove.

I’d love to hear from any of you who have fond memories of whistling cookers.  In the meanwhile, I for one know that the food comes out tasting great no matter what language the pressure cooker speaks.



  1. I HEART my Fissler and am glad it’s not a whistler! I use my PC almost every day. I LOVE your line that you revere silence. That defines my favorite soundtrack.

  2. I have a lot of fun with my 5 year old in ritual of testing the stem on the jiggle top (saving us once from a real issue) and him identifying when we were at pressure. We have all your books and has really added to our healthy eating.

    • I’m curious what your ritual is. You are clearly bringing up a new generation of children who are not afraid of the pressure cooker!

      • Our first PC was the fagor jiggle top. He runs the test to make sure the stem is not blocked by blowing thru it. The one time it was actually blocked – I thought the issue was him and not the PC. He was rather insistent tho and as I ran the test I was surprised that I couldn’t get air thru.
        Of course, cooking in general is great with kids b/c they love it and there are so many learning opportunities with measurements, etc. I think the PC cooking really lends to this b/c you put everything in when it is still cold and don’t really have to be concerned with splashing hot liquids, etc. Once he puts it all in lining up and locking the lid is something he still enjoys.
        Good times.

      • TX Chris: It’s great fun to know how you’re involving your child in the pressure cooker experience!

  3. I love Indian food and I see a lot of recipes that are timed by number of whistles as it says on your packet of sambahr masala.. Do you know how I can get good results from these recipes using a modern pressure cooker? How many minutes per whistle? Thanks Lorna.

    • I don’t know the conversion formula first hand, but when I googled “Indian pressure cooker whistle,” numerous informative articles came up. I’d love to hear if you agree with their advice. Happy cooking!

      • Thanks for the tip… I read it’s about 3 minutes per whistle with natural release. I’m not in a position to agree or disagree… yet!

    • I’m sure Lorna will agree that there are two issues involved when converting recipes designed for “whistling” pressure cookers to yours. The first being, that they do not reach the same pressure as modern pressure cookers (they are equivalent to Low Pressure – a little higher) and the second, as you discovered, the timing.

      The best thing to do, instead of converting whistles into timing, is to look up the cooking time of the main ingredient of the recipe in your Lorna Sass cookbook timing chart- and use THAT timing!



      • That’s a good idea about using the timing charts in Lorna’s books to arrive at the right timing, but I believe you may be incorrect about the psi of Indian pressure cookers. When I searched I found that the psi of an Indian whistler made by Prestige was 15psi. That’s the same as high pressure on the Magefesa I have.

      • MK, it is true that today’s Indian pressure cooker models reach 15 PSI – much like Italy, they are also being exposed to the newer, more potent models. Unfortunately, they are still pretty expensive. The older ones max out at 60-80KPA which is equivalent to 8-11PSI.

        Even Magefesa, a Spanish manufacturer, sells “fast” and “superfast” pressure cookers – “superfast” being the pressure cookers that reach 15 PSI.

        The cook time is not the only thing affected. If you are following a recipe written for an Indian “jiggler” evaporation is also a factor (you will only get about 3% evaporation from your spring-valve).

        But you can circumvent all this technical “bla, bla, bla” by just looking at the timing of the ingredient and minimum liquid requirements in the manual of the pressure cooker in which you are cooking the recipe – or trusted cookbook. ; )



  4. I mostly remember the sound of exploding cookers. 😉

    • You have to come over for a 4-minute risotto tasting. We need to erase those memories since well designed cookers have been safe for decades!

  5. In Italy, with the old-timer weight-modifyed pressure cookers – which, unfortunately are still on sale today. We “say” they whistle but they really just shusshs us. My description sounds almost too romantic… they sound like steam engine pistons firing off!



  6. Whistle while you work — or while the pressure cooker does the work for you! Looking forward to kabocha squash soup in the PC in a few days. My pressure cooker is also silent, but I know I’ll be whistling with pleasure over that bowl of soup — no, those bowls of soup.

  7. How do you convert whistles to a regular pressure cooker?

    • Converting Indian “whistle” times: each whistle = 3 minutes of cooking after you’ve reached high pressure. But as already mentioned, you have to also compensate for different evaporation rates. Modern PC’s lose much less liquid to evaporation so unless you’re cooking something that will be drained after its done you’ll probably want to reduce the amount of liquid slightly.

      As also mentioned, an easy way to deal with this is to check the timings suggested in modern PC cookbooks for the recipes containing similar ingredients.

  8. When we first were married I was working many hours and traveling
    each day. No Microwaves yet! So actually my husband taught me to cook with my first pressure cooker and I keep it for 40 years. Everytime I heard
    the sound we all knew something good was for dinner and it wasn’t going to
    take very long. I finally bought a new model that doesn’t make much noise and it works beautifully……however we all miss that “sound” the most in the cool weather when soups and stews are terrific. I also did not go for the newer electric ones……I still love the manual stove top one..

    Happy Autumn!

  9. Popular culture will hep us out if anything is mysterious in the world of whistling pressure cookers. Lauren Bacall to Humphrey Bogart in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT:

    “If you want me, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you? Just put your lips together and blow.”

    Rumor has it that before she was Lauren Bacall, the late Betty Perske could whip up a pot of split pea soup in twenty minutes . . . whether she put her lips together to do it hasn’t been ascertained yet.

    • This is adorable. Thanks for the laugh out loud.

  10. Indian food is great! Just a reminder in using your pressure cooker, Read The Manual First!

  11. I have an Indian pressure cooker- Hawkins, stainless steel and LOVE it. It is so much easier and safer to use than the one I bought here in the US. When an Indian PC is up to pressure, it’s obvious- it whistles and sends out a big puff of steam. The (admittedly not high end) American one I have rocks gently and it’s always a guess as to whether or not it’s completely up to pressure. The Hawkins is also much quieter than a regular jiggle-top.

  12. Lorna, I wanted to come back and say that I uploaded my library of pressure cooker manuals to share with everyone online. It includes manuals for Indian Hawkins Cookers which run at 15psi. I haven’t found manuals for “whistling” pressure cookers, yet but when I do I will be sure to add them!

    Here is the link, so everyone can read and contribute their manuals to the library. I imagine that, you too, have quite a collection!

    Some manufacturers also provide recipes in their manuals. So, at least for me, they are soo much fun!



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