Jan 16, 2013

Under Pressure

If thoughts of pressure cookers bring to mind exploding pots and grease-spotted ceilings, you are not alone.  For years pressure cookers have struck fear into the hearts of many an intrepid cook who thinks nothing of flambĂ©ing crepes or preparing soufflĂ©s.
 Let me tell you about the time I was preparing Sheva Brachos for a relative in my home.  Since only the best would do, pickled tongue was to be the appetizer.  As a seasoned pressure cooker user, I had not a moment’s hesitation about using it to cook the tongue.  After all, it speeds cooking time and if there is one thing we all agree on, “the quicker the better.” 
Things were going along merrily until I left the kitchen for a moment and “BOOM!” a loud explosion followed by a long steady hissing noise issued from the general vicinity of the stove.
 I could not actually see what the source of the noise was because within seconds my kitchen was filled with a fog of white steam heavily laden with grease.  I blindly made my way in and quickly turned off the fire.  After a few moments, the fog began to settle leaving a greasy film on every surface.  I leave the details of the cleanup to your imagination.  Needless to say, it was sometime before I used my pressure cooker again. 
Of course, the point of my tale is not to put you off using this time-saving cookware, but rather to illustrate the vast differences between pressure cookers.  Today’s high end pressure cookers have multiple safety features that head off explosive tongues long before they occur. 
European cookware manufacturers put an encapsulated (sandwiched) aluminum base on their pressure cookers to ensure even heating.  This aluminum is only on the outside and does not come in contact with your food.  Aluminum, one of the best heat conductors, promotes quick and even heat-up of the pot.   Instead of the little jiggly thing at the top of the pot, precise pressure indicators allow you to choose the right amount of pressure for the food you are cooking.  Pressure is easily adjusted by raising or lowering the flame. 
Advanced safety mechanisms allow built up steam to escape gradually if it has gone above safe levels.  Some brands will incorporate up to three pressure releasing safety systems.     And, the gaskets found inside the lids are now silicone and stay soft and supple for many years unlike their rubber predecessors that quickly turned hard and brittle.
 Many models allow for removal of handles for ease of clean-up. Others offer “quick pressure release” for those of us who are in a rush. 
The best reason for using a pressure cooker is to reduce cooking time.  For some recipes the cooking time may be cut down by as much as 70%. That’s a huge difference for a busy cook!
 A large cut of meat, pickled or raw will that normally requires 2-3 hours of cooking will be perfectly done in 30 to 40 minutes at high pressure.  Beef tongue will also cook in 40 minutes while veal tongue needs only 20 to 25.  A thick, hearty vegetable soup made with split peas and beans needs to cook for 20 minutes while chicken soup cooks up well in 30-35 minutes.  Potatoes, beans and cabbage should be gently cooked at lower pressure and require 10 minutes while softer vegetables like peppers or cauliflower will be done in 5-6 minutes.  White rice benefits from high pressure and will cook in 8-10 minutes, brown rice will need a few minutes longer.   Apples and pears for compote cook speedily in 3-5 minutes at the lower pressure setting.  Cooking times are calculated from when proper pressure has been reached. 
We like to use pressure cookers to quickly get a hearty home-made dinner on the table after a long day at work.
½ cup water
2 large onions, thickly sliced
1 each red and green peppers, seeded and cut into 1” strips
2 cups Bone Suckin’ Barbecue Sauce, hot or regular (or other barbecue sauce)
5 pounds beef spare ribs or flanken
2 tablespoons corn starch

Place water, onions and peppers in your pressure cooker.  Place a single layer of ribs on the vegetables.  Brush generously with sauce.  Place another layer of ribs on top and once again brush with sauce.  Continue layering until all the ribs are in the pot.  Pour in any remaining sauce.  Cover the pressure cooker by lining up indicator symbols on the lid and handle.  Turn and lock lid in place, closing any required locking mechanisms.   Turn up flame to high until just before the second or higher pressure indicator appears.  Lower the heat slightly to maintain pressure at the second level but no higher.  Cook for 25 minutes.  Remove from heat.
When the pressure indicators are completely lowered, either by waiting or quick release methods, open the cover.  Remove the ribs to a platter and keep warm.  Skim off any visible fat and place 2 tablespoons of the liquid in the cooker into a small bowl.  Stir in the cornstarch and pour it back into the pot.  Bring to a gentle boil and heat until sauce thickens, about 2-3 minutes.  Pour sauce over ribs and serve. 

1 1/2 pounds lean beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 pound whole white button mushrooms
3 carrots cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
12 ounces egg noodles

Toss the beef with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften and begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the white wine, mustard and flour, bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the broth, mushrooms, carrots and celery.
Secure the pressure cooker lid and bring to high pressure over medium heat.
 Once it reaches high pressure, cook for 18 minutes. Remove from the heat and, using the quick-release valve, carefully open. Stir in the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the egg noodles according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.
Divide the noodles evenly among 6 serving bowls and top with the beef stroganoff.

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