Ask the Goats: Split Peas in the Pressure Cooker?

Q: All of the pressure cooker instruction books say that you shouldn’t cook split peas in your pressure cooker. But Doris, you told me you did! What happened? Is it safe?

(a conversation between Doris and Jilly)

Well, Jilly. No, you really shouldn’t do this. I tried, and it’s the only time that I have been frightened when using the pressure cooker. This happened:

I put the split peas and their broth in the cooker, and everything was going swimmingly. The regulator was rocking, it was hissing—no problem. But suddenly I noticed that the jiggling stopped. The pressure cooker became very, very quiet. Suspecting what had happened, I immediately turned off the heat and waited. After about 30 seconds, the cooker made a horrible sound and split pea mash started emerging from the underside of the regulator. It didn’t actually explode, but had I not turned off the heat, it’s hard to say what might have happened.

So, kids, it turns out that the instructions are correct: it is not safe to cook split peas in the pressure cooker. They foam, and the foam clogs the vent. Pressure can’t escape and you’ve got yourself a ticking time bomb. However (!), you can still prepare them in the pressure cooker, but—and this is a big but—you must enclose them in a separate pan. Simply put your split peas and broth in a small, heatproof bowl, cover it securely with foil, and place it on the steaming rack. Add 2 cups of water to the cooker and cook as you normally would (about 5 minutes should be plenty). This is the same procedure that we used for steaming the barley. All set!

One more thing: this accident was averted because I was in the kitchen and noticed that it stopped jiggling. Never leave your pressure cooker unattended.

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8 comments to Ask the Goats: Split Peas in the Pressure Cooker?

  • Andrew

    But doesn’t the pressure cooker have that small rubber stopper that would blow out if the pressure got too high?

  • dorisgoat

    Yes, but piping hot split peas would spray out of the hole. Not pretty, and not safe.

  • You may not want to cook split peas in an old-fashioned pressure cooker but they seem to cook just fine in a modern spring-valve pressure cooker. It’s important to follow directions and know the equipment that you are working with.

    Good thing that you were paying attention and didn’t have a big, hot oozing mess on your hands, floor or ceiling.

  • Interesting, I’ve cooked split peas in my pressure cooker and never had anything like this happen. I must have had it on a lower heat. If split peas don’t have enough moisture or they cook too long, that’s exactly what will happen. Split peas will absorb moisture very quickly. They’re not as hard as a bean as kidneys or garbonzos, they’re much softer.

  • Stephanie Clifford-Smith

    I’ve cooked split peas on a pressure cooker loads of times too and it’s always been fine. I was surprised by this scary warning. It’s fantastic for pea and ham soup and for a lovely mince and split pea curry – both done in under 30 mins. Madhur Jaffrey suggests adding a bit of oil to the water when cooking any pulse in the PC which presumably helps any blockage slip through the hole and relieve pressure. I’m with Kellene – different rules for different equipment.

  • dorisandjilly

    Stephanie is completely right in saying that the equipment matters! The issue is especially critical if you’re using a jiggle top. Even so, I’d go with the manufacturer’s warning on this one. Split peas foam, and the foam can stop up the vent. If you want to make split peas in the PC, it’s safer if you stick them inside another container (as you would for grains) or use an oversized cooker. Better safe than sorry.

  • Jeannette Fitch

    I would suggest that just make sure you don’t fill the pressure cooker more than about 1/2 full including water. that gives it room to “work” without sending foam every which way. maybe even a bit less than half???

  • dorisandjilly

    With split peas, it’s really best to cover them, no matter how full your pot is. When cooking beans, I always try to keep it below 1/3 full and I *still* had this problem. Better safe than sorry!