Dinner in a Dash – With Pressure Cookers
My mom was an adventurous cook but one item that never graced her kitchen was a pressure cooker. She had heard horror stories about pressure cookers that clang and hiss. And tales of woe about having to watch the pan like a hawk lest it blow and create a “mural” of food on the ceiling, sometimes causing serious burns from scalding hot food. Well, that’s all changed with the newest generation of pressure cookers. They’re one of the hottest selling cookware items and perfectly safe to use.
My pressure cooker, a Fagor 8 qt. stainless steel model, has served me well for years. I’ve taught pressure cooking classes and students are always amazed and delighted at the speed at which the food cooks, along with the nutrients preserved. A bonus is you can use less expensive, leaner cuts of meat, because pressure cooking renders them tender and succulent.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with pressure cookers, here’s a primer, sort of a pressure cooking 101:
What is a pressure cooker?
A pressure cooker is like a saucepan with a special cover/lid that locks in place. Air is automatically exhausted and steam is sealed inside creating pressure in the pan. Under pressure, internal temperatures in the cooker are raised above the boiling point of water (water boils at 212 degrees), causing foods to cook faster. At 15 pounds pressure, a temperature of 250 degrees is reached inside the cooker. What this does is speeds cooking and the moist steam atmosphere tenderizes meats naturally.
Why you should own a pressure cooker
Cooks Illustrated just came out with a new pressure cooker cookbook, called Pressure Cooker Perfection (Paperback; 176 pages; 109 recipes; pictures; $19.95). It is a must have for anyone interested in healthy, budget friendly cooking. It has really good, solid information about the advantages of cooking under pressure, what to look for when shopping for a pressure cooker and how to use it, a trouble-shooting section, step-by-step guides to pressure cooking and a host of mouth-watering, easy to make, recipes.
Before you use your pressure cooker, read instructions carefully and get familiar with it. The problem that is most prevalent with new pressure cooker users is the tendency to overcook foods. Know when to start timing the cooking of the food by following your cooker’s instructions. (And remember you can always cook the food again if it’s not completely done by putting the lid on, bringing it back up to pressure, and cooking for a few more minutes).
There are now standard stove top pressure cookers and electric pressure cookers. I have used both. Mine is a Fagor stainless steel, 8 qt. stove top model.
Here’s what Cooks Illustrated says about pressure cookers, and I agree:
Today’s pressure cookers are foolproof and safe.
They’re quieter, and so much easier to use than the old fashioned models with the jiggly pressure gages. They have simple methods for locking and unlocking the lid and reading and maintaining pressure levels.
Today’s cookers have multiple safety features that allow that excess pressure to escape safely and without creating a mess.
Pressure cookers are versatile and flavors are locked in.
I cook large pieces of meat, soups, fruit, grains, stews, sauces and soups in my pressure cooker. I just made a pot of bean soup using dried beans soaked overnight and it took only 12 minutes once pressure was met. You can save at least 1/3 of the cooking time, usually more, from conventional cooking methods.
Pressure cooking allows for maximum flavor because the flavor molecules can’t escape. You’ll need less liquid, too which translates into richer flavors. And the intense pressure extracts more flavor from ingredients like beef bones, spices and seasonings.
Pressure cookers save money and keep the kitchen cooler.
Once you get your cooker up to pressure, you lower the heat . Shorter cooking times and this lower heat means less energy used and less heat accumulating in the air.
How much can you put in the pan?
Read instructions that come with the pressure cooker, but for the most part, fill the pot either half or 2/3 full. Some pots have fill line indicators to help.
Locking lid in place.
Before you can bring the pot up to pressure, modern pressure cookers have a safety mechanism that requires you to “lock the lid in place.” It’s different on each model, but on mine and many others, there’s a marker on the id that lines up with a marker on the pot. You twist the lid so that the handle on the lid aligns with the handle on the pot, creating an airtight seal. If the lid is not properly locked on, today’s pots are designed so that pressure cannot build up.
Pressure cookers have a silicone gasket/rubber ring that fits snugly in a channel around the perimeter of the underside of the lid. When placed correctly, this allows an airtight seal which in turn allows pressure to build in the pot
They also have safety features to allow excess steam to escape during cooking time so again, no worries about anything blowing up or off. (Detailed information is available in the Pressure Cooker Perfection book).
High and low pressure.
Most pressure cookers have 2 pressure levels: high and low. The exact amount of pressure (measured in pounds per squire inch, or psi) for each level varies slightly from pot to pot, but generally, high registers around 15 psi, while low registers 5 psi.
My pressure cooker is an 8 quart cooker and has only 1 pressure level: high. That’s OK with me because most of what I cook does well on high pressure. The Pressure Cooker Perfection book gives advice on how to adjust recipes for different pressures.
Adjusting heat during cooking process.
On my stovetop model, there is a gentle releasing of steam during the cooking process. Sometimes I have to adjust the heat up or down. I know all is OK if the gage is in the proper position and the steam being released is gentle and not real loud and “hissy”. Once pressure is attained on my electric stove, I turn the heat to medium low and that works for me.
Natural and quick release: what’s the difference?
When your food is done, you have to let pressure out of the pot before the lid can be opened. There are 2 ways to do this: natural release or quick release.
Natural release is what I use most. I turn off the heat and allow the pressure in the pot to naturally drop back down. This is a gentle method and nice when you want to gently finish cooking the food through, since the food will continue to cook as pressure drops.
A quick release is used when you want to stop the cooking process immediately because the food can easily overcook (think chicken breasts). Or if a gentle finish isn’t important, the quick release is nice beacuese it’s faster. Back in the old days, we had to carry the pressure cooker very carefully to the sink and run cold water on top of the cover until the pressure dropped down.
And guess what? No worries about opening the lid too soon while pressure is still in the pot. There are safety mechanisms in place with the new pressure cookers that won’t allow the lid to be opened unless pressure has dropped down.
PRESSURE COOKER BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH POTATOES
I had to try this recipe from the new book “Pressure Cooker Perfection” by Cooks Illustrated. I’ve adapted it slightly. I made this in an 8 quart pressure cooker.
8 (5-7 oz) bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 heaping cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 pounds small red potatoes, halved
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
Pat chicken dry, season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in pressure cooker until just smoking. Brown half of thighs, skin side down, until golden, about 6 minutes. Transfer to plate. Remove and discard skin from browned and unbrowned thighs. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot.
Add onion and cook over medium heat until soft, then stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in wine, smoothing out lumps and cook until slightly reduced, about 1 minute. Stir in broth and scrape up all browned bits. Put chicken with accumulated juices into pot and top with potatoes.
Lock lid in place and bring to high pressure over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 20 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain high pressure.
Remove from heat and quick release pressure, carefully remove lid, allowing steam to escape away from you.
Transfer potatoes and chicken to serving dish, tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Skim excess fat from surface of sauce and stir in tarragon, salt and pepper. Pour over chicken and serve.
U.S. SENATE BEAN SOUP, TWO WAYS
Cathy, a “loyal reader”, wanted a recipe for this famous soup, which to this day is still served in the Senate’s restaurant in Washington, D.C. One story goes that the bean soup tradition began around 1900 at the request of Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho. Regardless, it’s a soup that’s stood the test of time, and there have been a bunch of recipes replicating it. I like the one from Joyofcooking.com, Ethan and Susan Becker’s online site. It’s a fun and easy site to maneuver through, and tells the history of the Joy of Cooking family. When they lived in Cincinnati, both Ethan and Susan were fun to be around, and always willing to share their abundant talents. And they’re still doing it, but now from their Half Moon Ridge retreat in the mountains of East Tennessee. Here’s their original recipe and then my recipe adapted for the pressure cooker.
First, soak beans:
Soak 1 1⁄4 cups small dried white beans, such as navy or Great Northern, rinsed and picked over. You can soak them overnight, covered with cold water by a couple inches, or do a quick soak: bring to a boil and let sit for 1 hour. Either way, after soaking, drain water off.
Place in a soup pot, along with:
1 small ham hock
7 cups cold water
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the beans are tender, about 1 1⁄4 hours. Remove the ham hock (leave the soup at a gentle simmer). Discard the bone, skin, and fat; dice the meat. Return it to the pot and add:
1 large onion, diced
3 medium celery ribs with leaves, chopped
1 large potato, peeled and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
Simmer until the potato pieces are quite soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and mash with a potato masher until the soup is a bit creamy. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Tip from Rita’s kitchen:
Soaking beans. You can soak them overnight in cold water or do a quick soak: cover with water, bring to a boil, turn heat off and let sit 1 hour.
Pressure Cookers Method: Bean Soup
I adapted the recipe just a bit: I substituted 2 cups mixed dry beans for the white beans, used leftover ham (a generous 2 pounds), chicken broth for the water, tossed in some sliced carrots, a bay leaf, and added a 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes.
I simply put all ingredients in the pressure cooker, including the soaked beans, brought it up to pressure and, because the ham was already cooked, it took all of 12 minutes to cook once pressure was reached!
Remove bay leaf before serving. We like it with a splash of red wine vinegar.
Pressure Cookers: Beef Vegetable Soup in Minutes – Really!
No kidding, it takes about 25 minutes after reaching pressure to cook the soup. Make sure you cut the meat into small cubes, about 1/2″. Bigger cubes make take a little longer to cook.
1-1/2 # pounds chuck roast, cut into small cubes
2 cups vegetable juice, like V8
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 large potato, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic (opt but good)
2 bay leaves
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (about 1 pound or so)
4 cans, 14.5 oz ea., beef broth plus extra if needed
Place everything in pressure cooker and lock lid in place. Bring up to high pressure over medium high heat. Cook for 25 minutes. Let pressure release, using natural method. Remove bay leaves and adjust seasonings and add more broth if desired.
TWENTY MINUTE SPICE ROASTED WHOLE CHICKEN
A favorite of students, this chicken is so tender that you have to be careful removing it from the pot. So good with a side of rice pilaf and sautéed green beans. Now if the chicken is not done after 20 minutes, just put the lid back on, bring it back to high pressure, and cook just a few more minutes.
1 frying chicken, about 3#
1 teaspoon each: minced dried rosemary and thyme
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large slices onion
1/2 cup chicken broth, white wine or water
Make a rub of the herbs and spices. Rub inside and outside of bird. Film bottom of pressure cooker with oil. Over medium high heat, brown bird on all sides. Add onion and broth. Lock lid in place. Bring to high pressure over medium high heat and cook 20 minutes. (It’s OK if you go a bit longer). Release pressure using quick release method. Serve pan juices with chicken.
FIVE MINUTE APPLESAUCE
Healthy and so delicious. This can be frozen. If you want, you can wait to add the sugar after apples are cooked.
8 Granny Smith apples, about 3#
1 cup apple juice, cider or water
Sugar, honey, agave syrup, stevia or your favorite sweetener to taste (optional)
Couple squeezes of lemon juice
Cinnamon to taste (opt)
Cut up apples. I leave peelings on, but you can peel if you want. Put into cooker with juice, sugar and lemon. Lock lid in place. Bring to high pressure over medium high heat. Cook 5 minutes. Let pressure drop naturally. You can mash up the apples if you like or run them through a food mill for smooth applesauce. Sprinkle with cinnamon if you like.
Tips from Rita’s kitchen:
Rosy cranberry applesauce: Toss in a handful or so of fresh or dried cranberries before cooking.
Apples contain pectin (right below the skin is where it’s abundant) and that helps lower cholesterol and remove some toxic metals from your body.
Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar.