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Under Pressure

December 10, 2014

“These are the days – it never rains but it pours” – Queen

Snow days can be fun. Ice days are just brutal. The only thing to do is hang out inside and cook the cold and the isolation away. Of course there are some people who just have to brave the roads and snarling traffic. I’m really glad I’m not one of them.

Instead, I got to put a local pork shoulder in the slow cooker and smell it braising all day long. Young Master Fussy got a hot lunch of homemade chicken soup with orzo. We made organic popcorn on the stove and ate in front of the TV. The kids got to see their first ever episode of The Munsters. As a side project I made a batch of pretty darn perfect hard boiled eggs. And finished up some of the charcuterie and chocolate cake that have been laying around the house.

It’s hard to complain.

Oh yeah, and I was able to take my brand new pressure cooker out for its maiden voyage, which was probably about as harrowing as I had expected.

For those who had been following the unfolding pressure cooker debate on these pages, I now have the Fagor Duo 10 quart. The plan was to buy one for myself, but my mother reads the blog and she just jumped in and bought me one. That was very nice. And her birthday present to me was a bit larger than the ones I was considering.

That just means larger batches of stock. And now I can pressure can, at least in theory. But I don’t see myself taking advantage of that feature of this plus sized pressure cooker any time in the near future.

After reading through the instruction manual, the cookbook, and consulting a few online resources, I had a fair idea about what to expect from my new tool. But I’ve never actually seen anyone use a pressure cooker up close before.

Many, many years ago I went to a YMCA camp. I was a camper in leadership training. And they made my memorize a poem. If you’ll indulge me for a moment:

I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one any day
I’d rather one would walk with me than merely show the way
The eyes are better pupils and more willing than the ears
Fine counsel is confusing, but examples always clear

For the best of all the preachers are the ones who fill their creeds
‘cause to see the good in action is what everybody needs.
I can soon learn to do it if you let me see it done
I can watch your hands in action, though your tongue too fast may run.

For the lessons you deliver may be very wise and true
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do
Because I may misunderstand you in the fine advice you give
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

If that’s not right, it’s pretty darn close. And that summer was over 25 years ago. Man, I’m old. Anyhow, I know the poem isn’t about cooking, but it totally applies. I read all about how to make orecchiette and it was a total pain in the ass until I spent five minutes in the kitchen watching chef Josh Coletto bang out a couple trays worth of the stuff.

Maybe one day I can get into a kitchen with Ellie Markovitch and see how she uses this device. For me there were a few tricky parts.

Steam Spotter

The trick is to look for a gentle steady stream of steam coming from the pressure valve. What does that look like? It took me two tries to figure it out, but I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten the feel for that part.

The first few minutes of the first attempt were tense. There was steam coming out by the handle. I was concerned my machine was defective, or maybe I had found a way to do it wrong. But later I realized that this is normal in the first few minutes until the internal pressure is great enough to activate the steam lock.


And then I almost scalded myself by fiddling with the pressure valve. That caused it to spit a bit unexpectedly. All was fine. No harm, no foul.

Cooking Blind

This was a challenge for somebody who is a bit of a control freak in the kitchen. It’s just that I like to know what’s going on inside my cookware. And the result was that my first batch of white beans with aromatics and double smoked bacon ends (thank you Rolf’s) was underdone. No big deal. I was able to add some more water, put the pot on for a couple more minutes, and I had a pot of tender, creamy beans in a shockingly short time.

I was surprised to find the two onion halves I dropped into the pot for flavor mostly dissolved into the beans. I had expected to take those out. So there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve with performance there too.

Aromatics were more intense to boot. The four cloves I put into the pot were much more pervasive in the final dish than they would have been in a more traditional preparation. But oddly the smokiness of the bacon was largely lost. That’s still a bit of a mystery to me.

In the end, the beans were fine. For a first attempt at using a new tool, I’m satisfied with my results. The next thing I cook in the contraption will be even better. It’s going to be chicken stock. But I think I’m going to leave out the celery because I’m concerned that putting it in the pressure cooker from the start will result in a stewed celery flavor. That’s not a good thing. Instead, I think I’ll add it at the end of cooking, maybe for just ten minutes without the lid, to add a bit of depth.

It’s fun to have a shiny new toy. And I can’t wait for my first batch of stock.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2014 10:24 am

    I love my pressure cooker but I have generally been dissatisfied with the stocks I’ve achieved from it… This is counter intuitive as I have read all sorts of science about temps, gelatin, agitation, etc… that tell me why the pressure cooker stock should be equal or better. I think I just prefer the long cooked stocks for some nebulous, possibly imaginary, characteristic that is imparted by the long simmer.

  2. December 10, 2014 10:34 am

    Also, here is a crappy Trader Joes dal recipe that works in a pinch – A bag of TJ’s red lentils, a jar of their fire roasted salsa, a tablespoon of their madras curry and tumeric, a squeeze of lime, a sploosh of olive oil, and a chile of your choosing, seasoning, and commensurate water to achieve your favored consistency (spoon dal/fork dal). 7 or 8 minutes depending on your cooker. It ain’t authentic, but it is quick.

    • Bob W. permalink
      December 10, 2014 11:28 am

      This is right up my alley (quick, easy, and the children will eat it) — how much water for fork dal consistency?

  3. December 10, 2014 12:02 pm

    Congratulations on your new cooker! How about a pressure cooking skill sharing morning with me as my belated birthday present! Bring a friend, I have beans :) we can discuss some of the recipes you could like to try. I love making “canja” and would like to try risotto next.

  4. Kerosena permalink
    December 10, 2014 1:05 pm

    All this talk about pressure cookers inspired me to dig mine out of the basement. It’s a hand-me-down 7 qt. Kuhn Rikon that I received over 10 years ago. I used it for the first time yesterday! Thanks for bringing up this topic. I’m pretty suggestible.

    I made chicken stock, and I have to say it was truly the best I’ve ever made. Not that I really did much. I looked at an Alton Brown recipe that had me use 8 oz each of the aromatics, 3 lb of bony chicken, 1T of kosher salt and some whole peppercorns. I also added some dried thyme and sage.

    I was surprised at the relatively small amount of aromatics. I chose to go with a smaller amount of celery and a larger amount of carrots. I hate that stewed celery flavor too.

    The result was so deeply chicken and so much tastier than usual. I felt sad for a minute when I thought of all the times I made stock in the kitchen while my pressure cooker languished in the basement. But then I got over it and made another batch for the freezer.

  5. EPT permalink
    December 10, 2014 4:10 pm

    You can add celery at the beginning and it won’t overpower the stock. I often cheat and use an organic low sodium stock instead of water, makes for a really nicely flavored strong stock. I would also suggest getting a copy of Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna Sass, not so much for the recipes but for cooking times, it comes in very handy as a guide. Glad to hear you’re enjoying the new toy.

  6. December 10, 2014 10:39 pm

    I will be following this saga. I am fascinated by but frightened of pressure cookers. I overheard too many vague stories of them “exploding” as a child.

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