Using a pressure cooker offers two benefits. You can use less expensive foods for healthy meals and you can cook them quickly.
I regularly cook dried chickpeas without presoaking in 15 minutes or a turkey stock in 30 minutes of active cooking time. The term active cooking time indicates the prescribed cooking time but you must allow the cooker to cool to room temperature before you can remove the lid. This may take 10 to 15 additional minutes.
A pressure cooker is a specialized heavy aluminum pot with a lid that locks into place and seals tightly. The lid has a rubber gasket to create the seal. The lid has a regulator that maintains the build up of pressure. Pressure cookers come with either a jiggle top or with a gauge that rises with the pressure.
Under pressure a higher temperature and greater humidity are reached and the food cooks more quickly. Modern pressure cookers have safety features if too much pressure builds up in the pot.
Liquid is required. The pot has measurement lines to indicate half and two thirds full. The pot must not be filled more than two thirds full. Be sure to submerge any solids so you can accurately read the fill level.
Place food and liquid in pot; secure lid and place on high heat. Once pressure has been reached, reduce heat just to maintain pressure. You can judge that the pressure has been reached by the sound the pressure regulator makes. It will have a constant stream of steam. Start your cooking time now. Continue cooking for the prescribed time and then turn off heat. Allow pot to cool naturally until no steam is being released from pressure regulator. Now the lid can be opened safely.
Pressure cookers can be purchased in most home cookware departments. Price varies from $49 to $250. Usually they are made of an aluminum core with a stainless steel outer surface for easy cleaning and attractive appearance. Their aluminum base maintains a more even temperature so the food does not burn on the bottom.
All parts should be hand washed. The rubber gasket should be removed and washed to remove any greasy or sticky residues. Dry thoroughly before placing the lid on for storage.
Foods that take a long time to cook are ideal to prepare in a pressure cooker. This includes the less tender cuts of meats, dried beans and grains, stews and stocks. The active cooking time will vary but usually is between 10 and 45 minutes. Vegetables and other foods that cook in less than 15 minutes are not good candidates. They will turn out soft and mushy.
1 turkey carcass
1 stalk celery
1 large carrot
1 or 2 bay leaves
Whole spices including black peppercorns, juniper berries, allspice to equal 1 teaspoon 5mL
Remove all fat and skin from the carcass and discard. Place bones in the pressure cooker. Roughly chop the onion, celery and carrot. Add to pressure cooker. Add whole spices. Fill with cold water to the 1/2 or 2/3 line. Place lid on pot and secure. Place pot on high heat. When the steam regulator allows a steady stream of steam to escape reduce heat just to maintain this level. Cook like this for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the pot to cool naturally until no steam escapes from the regulator. Open.
Strain the solids through a colander over a large bowl. Discard solids. The liquid is the stock and can be used right away, be frozen or pressure canned for future use or pressure canned.
Oxtail Stew Cádiz Style as shown above
Oxtail is commonly discarded. The gelatin in oxtail creates a silky mouth feel resembling fat but without the calories. The garlic mellows out with the long cooking time so please use the prescribed amount. (Adapted from Tapas the Little Dishes of Spain by Penelope Casas)
2 lbs small oxtail
1 head garlic, separated and peeled
1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine, optional
1/4 cup canola or olive oil
1 cup water
1 cup chicken broth
Combine all ingredients in your pressure cooker pot. Cook as prescribed in the instructions above for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and let pot cool naturally.
Pour the stew into a strainer. After cooling, pull the meat off the bones and return the broth and meat to the cooking pot. Discard the bay leaf and clove. In a food processor or blender purée the garlic and onion. Beat in about 3/4 cup of the broth gradually, then stir this mixture into the pot. This recipe may be made ahead and reheated. Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.