Pressure cooking. The very phrase evokes terrifying images of food dripping from ceilings. But after considering the vastly improved safety reputation of newer equipment, finding braising had become a regular player in my cooking repertoire, rarely having time to babysit a pot for four to five hours, and discovering I actually did have space to store yet another piece of equipment, the final decision to purchase one actually came upon me quite suddenly.
I was shopping for a wedding gift for a friend when I saw the model I wanted on sale. The Fagor Splendid 10-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner was a sight to behold, all shiny and simple-looking!
And I figured I could always return it to the store if my loving husband objected to my evicting the Cuisinart Ice Cream maker from the big lazy Susan to make room for the new gadget. But my sweetheart was all in favor of the concept. He only awaited my foray into the breach before passing final judgment.
The only question remaining, what to prepare, was simply answered—my favorite braised beef short ribs recipe from the Whole Foods meat counter: . Admittedly, I changed a few things….
In preparation for my first test, I carefully reviewed the instruction manual twice to be absolutely sure I knew how to lock the lid, pressurize the cooker, what to do in the event of trouble, and perhaps most importantly, how to avoid trouble to begin with(!). Then I took the plunge. While hubby was away—naturally.
I started by seasoning the organic, grass-fed short ribs and heating a tablespoon of lard (not olive oil) in the pressure cooker, on high heat on the large burner of my electric stove. The lard got a little smokier than I might have liked, but bottom of the cooker distributed the heat very evenly, and the ribs browned beautifully, as did the onions and garlic I put to deglaze the pan in after removing the ribs.
Next I added wine, canned tomatoes, beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, orange zest, and fresh rosemary. (I also decided to add about one cup of filtered water to the mix, in addition to the amount of liquid called for by the recipe, to ensure the liquid wouldn’t steam away entirely during the cooking process.) After bringing the liquids to a boil, I returned the ribs and juices to the pot.
I also added all the carrots right away, rather than steam for 10 minutes, open the lid, add the carrots, and THEN return to steaming. I also made the executive decision to omit the pearl onions.
So, I checked the amount of food and liquid in the pot, ensuring it was no more than the 2/3 full maximum stated in the instructions and sealed the cooker by lining up the two hash marks per the instructions, turning the lid clockwise to lock it. Then I turned the dial on the operating valve to 12 o’clock (high), slipped the purple pressure lock toward the lid, and continued to cook on high heat to pressurize the cooker.
The instructions explained that it took some time to pressurize after sealing. In my case, it took about 10 minutes. Upon pressurization the safety valve button popped up, deploying just as it should have, and I began timing the cooking at about 25% of the time the dish would have required in a Dutch oven—about one hour.
The safety valve is a small, yellow plastic button that rises when fully pressurized and prevents the pressure lock from sliding open. The safety valve will only fall when the pot is fully depressurized. Only following such depressurization can the pressure lock be released and the lid unlocked.
After full pressurization, I lowered the burner heat to a setting of 4 and monitored the steam flow for about 10 minutes to ensure that a continuous, gentle steam flow was maintained from the operating valve. Unfortunately, the flow all but stopped, so I raised the heat to 5, after which the steam flow began again. Per instructions in this event, I just extended the cooking time by a few minutes.
Be advised, the cooker is not silent. You will hear the release of steam throughout the cooking process, but this is normal.
At the end of a little more than one hour, I opted to use the “automatic release method” and turned the dial on the operating valve to the “steam release position.” Steam shot out far more vigorously than before and from a vent to the left of the dial as opposed to the vent at the top of the dial. The steam stream was so powerful water, in fact, that it condensed on some utensils in a holder next to the stove!
After a few minutes, the steam pressure slowed considerably diminishing to nearly nothing, but the safety valve’s pressure indicator still had not fallen. When I touched it, however, the pressure indicator button dropped, and I was able to slide back the pressure lock and turn the top half of the handle counterclockwise to unlock the lid.
And the results were…
…amazing! Not only were the ribs more tender than ever before, but they were also far more flavorful. It was as if the pressure had forced the flavor of the spices, herbs, and aromatics farther below the surface of the meat than was ever possible at normal pressures. Every flavor was blended with all of the others but was not lost. Somehow, each ingredient was made simultaneously more intense as well.
Clean up of the cooker was also a snap. The pot and lid were returned to sparkling new condition with very little effort using liquid dish soap and a scouring pad/sponge combo. Even the light grey rubber gasket looked perfect with no tomato or red wine staining. Fabulous!
In retrospect, my only regret is how long it took me to try this cooking method. I already can tell my new-found love of pressure cooking is poised to evolve into a life-long passion.