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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pro's and Con's of the Pressure Cooker

This week I used my pressure cooker to make a fairly tasty stew, a chicken ratatouille.  A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe for Korean Short Ribs in the pressure cooker. These two recipes offer some insight into limits and usefulness the pressure cooker. I offer these insights as a public service, should you find yourself staring at the pressure cookers in the appliance aisle. Should you buy one? Read on.

The short ribs were fantastic. They cook in ¼ the time it takes to cook them in a conventional braise. The ribs are tender and they only get better when reheated. Short ribs have so much connective tissue and fat that they just don't dry out. The same cannot be said of chicken. Now, don't get me wrong - the chicken was delicious fresh out of the pressure cooker. But, on reheating, it just gets stringy and dry. I would not hesitate to make chicken in the pressure cooker for guests, but I would try to eat it all in one go. The leftovers just don't hold up. Remember that the next time you cook chicken in your pressure cooker. Though I haven't tried it, I expect you would get the same behavior with leaner tough cuts of beef. Brisket would act like short ribs because it also has lots of fat and connective tissue. Lean roasts - not so good.

What else is successful in the pressure cooker? Brown rice. It's a bit faster. The texture is also excellent. It's foolproof (and apparently when it comes to cooking rice, I'm a fool). I wrote about cooking brown rice in the pressure cooker last year, and I still think it's a miracle.

If you eat a lot of beans, it's a great investment. Chickpeas, which take a good hour if cooked under normal pressure, are done in 25 minutes in the pressure cooker (and 15 minutes if you start with pre-soaked beans). Dried beans, cooked at home, are far superior in texture to canned beans. Yeah, I use canned beans in a pinch, but they are kind of mushy. Dried beans absorb a lot of great flavor in the initial cooking. Canned beans never are as flavorful. Dried beans are also an incredible value. So, if you like beans, you will get your money's worth out of a pressure cooker.

Long-cooking vegetables, like carrots or turnips or sweet potatoes, cook well in the pressure cooker. But, most green vegetables can't stand up to the intense steamy environment in a pressure cooker. However, artichokes are a notable exception. If you love artichokes like I do, it is the fastest way to get these prickly vegetables to tender deliciousness.

3-4 artichokes
1 lemon
lots of minced garlic
dried herbs
salt and pepper

Clean by pulling off the lower tough outer leaves. Cut the top off, so you don't have to deal with those nasty thorns. Use a scissor to snip off any thorns on the outer leaves. Cut off the stem. If you peel it, you can toss it in the pot too and there's a lot of good artichoke there.

Rub the exposed flesh with the cut side of a lemon. That keeps the flesh from darkening. Stuff as much minced garlic as you like between the leaves of the artichokes. Sprinkle with dried herbs (basil, oregano, Italian herbs, rosemary are all good), salt and pepper between the leaves.

Put 1 cup of water in the pressure cooker. Place the steamer rack in the pressure cooker. Put the artichokes and stems (if cooking) in the steamer rack. Drizzle with olive oil and squeeze the rest of the lemon juice over the artichokes. Toss the lemon halves in there too. Lock on the top, bring up to pressure, and cook at pressure for 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the size of your artichokes. Reduce the pressure and let sit for 5-10 minutes. They are so hot at this point that you can't really eat them anyway. Serve with more olive oil, mayonnaise, or butter sauce.

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