This Christmas I received a pressure cooker (Fagor Duo) and in just a few weeks it’s had a major impact on my cooking. I don’t know why I didn’t have one before, or why they are not more common. Apparently they used to be much less reliable, exploding every so often, but the new models have safety valves and tend not to paint your kitchen for you every few years.
I’ve been cranking out quite a few things, trying out every idea I come across – eggs, risotto, stocks, braises, soups. There’s an infographic below, but I’ll summarize the science behind the primary benefit, which is cook time. The increased pressure raises the boiling point of liquids from 212F to 250F at 15 psi, which is the highest my pressure cooker will go. The results is fork tender lamb in thirty minutes, and falling apart short ribs at forty-five.
Not that I think this methodology can best a gently prepared, well watched stew, but I simply don’t have the time for that every day, and the quick cook time opens up so many more possibilities at 7:30 at night. The other day I wanted to make chili for the football game, but only had two hours before game-time. I cooked dried pinto beans in under twenty minutes, and put together a short rib chili directly after and was completely done within 75 minutes. It’s also much more efficient, and I don’t mind making small portions of things. I feel bad using just one pound of meat when braising in the oven for four hours, it seems like a waste of time and energy.
Outside of convenience, a few of the recipes I’ve tried are simply better. Boiled eggs peel easier, even with brand new eggs. It’s believed the pressure helps create space between the egg and the shell. The Modernist Cuisine carrot soup has barely four ingredients (butter, carrots, plain carrot juice, pinch of salt) and is stunning. Apparently another benefit of pressure cooking vegetables at such high temperatures is that is brings out the Maillard effect, the same cellular composition change which makes sears on meats or the crust on a loaf of bread taste amazing. They add a touch of baking soda to increase the alkalinity and further this effect, which can be accomplished with most any vegetable. Any root vegetable soup made this way should kick ass.
The final benefit I’ve perceived so far is that the moisture gets locked in, the best example I’ve tried being risotto. Check the table from Modernist Cuisine, they will tell you based on the type of rice you have, exactly how much liquid to add, cook time, then final finishing time once you’ve quick-released pressure. In the sealed environment, there’s no chance the rice is scorched. Three minutes at pressure, three to five over the stove top, and risotto is done. If you throw aromatics in there before coming up to pressure, minced garlic and onion or chiles tend to melt into the dish, infusing notable flavor.
I hate to sound like an informercial, but it has been a game-changer for me, though I do need some work. It’s easy to overcook things, and I’m learning to undershoot predicted cook times, then finish in the oven or stovetop, as I did for the lamb tagine in the second photo below. Instead of cooking for estimated 45 minutes, I cooked for 30, removed, strained most of the liquid, finished in the oven so the meat could brown further (I did sear before cooking too), reduced the extracted liquid while tasting for seasoning, then added the glaze back to the lamb. I am also having to learn that much less liquid is needed for these types of dishes. In both the short rib chile below and the lamb, I could have used at least half of the amount of stock or water. I think it’s possible to add different elements in stages too. With the lamb I added all my prunes and raisins right away, but when I do it again, I will probably add half of them first, to help create the stock/glaze and develop flavor, but add the rest of them when I finish in the oven so I’m left with recognizable elements and varied textures in the final product.
Very promising. If you have other pressure cooker go-to ideas, I would like to hear them.