Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Under Pressure? - Pressure cooker tips for fast, flavourful food

I’d never used a pressure cooker until very recently and I expected it would be similar to slow cooking but the reality I happy to say is much much better.
The speed with which the food cooks means flavours are fresh and clean with no loss of integrity; and while there is some steam it is not accompanied by the “rest home on a muggy day” aroma that I associate with the slow cooker.
My Indian friends consider pressure cooker essential equipment and the boaties and Bach owners swear by them for augmenting a small kitchen with limited facilities such as on a boat. The pressure cooker is a star when it comes to cooking cheap cuts of meat, and producing tender results in a much shorter time than conventional cooking.

The old fashioned models with rattling weights, that belched steam or in some cases soup onto the kitchen ceiling are a thing of the past. Modern Pressure cooking is easy, safe, fast and an excellent way to make delicious fork tender food from very inexpensive ingredients.

Pressure cooking is ideal for casseroles, soups, stews, and other normally slow cooking dishes.  Most will be cooked in 1/3 of the regular cooking time.
Steamed puddings including traditional Christmas pudding cook in a fraction of the time –perfect when Christmas occurs in the most humid part of the year.
Risotto, rice pudding and custards are all good contenders for the pressure cooker as it is gentle won’t damage the delicate structures of these dishes.
Jams marmalade and chutney as well as poached and preserved fruits can be done in the pressure cooker

Pulses and legumes cook quickly and can be prepared in bulk for freezing and virtually any meat or vegetable can be cooked; either under pressure, or simply using the pot as a saucepan.

Pressure cookers have two pressure levels and two release methods. Generally delicate or tender foods will be cooked under the more gentle pressure and finished quickly using the “quick release” method which releases the pressure in under a minute; you can also use the quick release if you want to check on the recipe, add ingredients or stir.

The higher pressure is used for meats, pulses etc and the “natural pressure release” method gives the ingredients time to relax and cook more gently for a further 15 or so minutes after the heat is turned off.

Pre steaming is referred to in many pressure cooker books; this term refers to using the pot without any pressure then changing to the pressurised lid for the remainder of a dish.
Pre steaming is needed to activate raising agents in puddings and dough before the cooking commences or to soften the outer layers of ingredients such as beans or lentils, so don’t skip it.
There are many comprehensive guides for cooking times online so if converting a recipe to use in a pressure cooker, look for one that has similar ingredients and adapt the cooking times to your recipe, with a bit of trial and error you’ll be able to get the hang of timings quite easily.
Always Always Always use a timer.