Seems like everyone's under a lot of pressure these days. We're crushing under the weight of a monumentally historic election, with real issues that affect real people's everyday lives. Our backs are breaking from the Sisyphean effort of keeping our moods and bank accounts buoyant while the market repeatedly plummets.
But pressure isn't always a bad thing. Without significant pressure, diamonds would be mere drab lumps of carbon. And pressure can be judiciously applied in the kitchen to great effect.
Like many people, I cast a wary eye toward pressure cookers for many years, envisioning madcap Lucille Ball-esque scenarios of exploding lids and volcanic eruptions of lava-hot food. But modern-day pressure cookers are both safe and easy to use, and an extremely handy appliance for those looking to economize both their time and money. After some research on DPaul's part, we purchased the Fagor 3-in-1 Electric Multi-Cooker, a countertop pressure, rice and slow cooker all in one. It's our new favorite toy.
I've already alluded once to our use of the pressure cooker, when we made molha. In that case, it reduced the cooking time from a couple of hours down to just 20 minutes at high pressure, plus the time to cool down, so about 45 minutes total. Moreover, only 20 minutes of that was actively consuming energy electricity to be precise, versus a matter of hours burning dead dinosaurs.
But that's nothing. For our first foray into pressure cookery, we made a simple vegetable soup: A bunch of vegetables, like green beans, potatoes, what have you, enough stock or water to cover, a good dollop of tomato puree, and seasoning to taste. Lid on, and the soup was done in three minutes. Three minutes! Hard veggies like potato and carrot were tender; softer vegetables retained their structure.
In our first weekend we made several different things: Soup, molha, chicken stock, beans. Everything turned out spectacularly. Beef, in particular, turns out butter-soft; I think the high heat breaks down the connective tissue, but the short cooking time prevents proteins from toughening.
As with any appliance, there are techniques to optimize results. We're still learning all the tricks, but a couple of basic tricks go a long way:
- Be liberal with your seasoning. Pressure cookery can deaden the flavor of herbs, especially dry ones, so use a heavier hand than you normally might.
- Protein-y foods (i.e., meats and beans) require that the pressure drop normally lest they toughen; vegetables can withstand quick-release.
- The less liquid you use, the faster you will come to pressure. You'll generally need less liquid than you think, though you do need at least several ounces to generate enough steam to build pressure.
And so the adventure begins. I've added a pressure cooking tag, so keep an eye on our exploits. Got any tips for us?
Robbo at Serious Eats also just got a pressure cooker. It's the new black!