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Under Pressure

October 2nd, 2012 · No Comments

I don’t usually blog about stuff that I do at home; it’s just usually not that interesting and if I’m cooking for myself it usually comes out of a box (“there are those who believe that hamburger needs no help. I am not one of these people.”) But today, I did something new (for me) in the kitchen, something that’s not at all popular among my generation, and was until recently verging on ‘lost knowledge’: I used a pressure cooker.

Sure, we all remember our grandparents having one of these. My grandparents had some story about it exploding, and my grandmother going to wipe the chicken soup off the ceiling and stepping on the left-on burner, resulting in her falling off the counter and winding up in bed for several weeks. Not the kind of story that encouraged me to actually use a pressure cooker for a lot of reasons: if my grandparents did it, it probably didn’t taste very good; and the thought of something exploding in the kitchen, other than perhaps an ‘explosion of taste’ isn’t something I’m interested in.

But a friend of ours works at America’s Test Kitchen and she is wonderful for pointing us towards innovative cooking techniques, or new recipes that we should try. It turns out that ATK has a Pressure Cooker book coming out, and so she bought a pressure cooker, and was impressed with the results, and suggested I do the same.

It doesn’t take a lot of arm-twisting to get me to get a new kitchen gadget, so I went online and got one of these, a Fissler vitaquick 8.5qt pressure cooker. Let me just rave about this for a second. I’ve got lots of nice kitchen stuff at home. The usual stand mixer, some nice knives, a few nice pots and pans. But this thing is like having cookware made by Mercedes-Benz in your kitchen. It has a solidity that few other kitchen items I’ve ever owned has. When the lid engages, it makes a satisfying combination of a ‘thud’ and a ‘click’ that makes you say to yourself, “this thing is *not* going to explode on me”. Cooking on a gas stove for 30 minutes? No problem: the handles are still cool. It’s amazing.

And certainly, a common complaint about a lot of high-end cookware like Le Creuset or All-Clad is that it’s heavy. This is a bit of a physics problem. Le Creuset is heavy because it’s enameled cast iron; if you want the amazing heat spreading and heat retention properties that those pots have, you need to make them out of something like cast iron – it’s not a very good conductor, and it’s strong, and you enamel it so you can cook sauces and stews in it that wouldn’t be safe to cook in raw cast iron. The same goes for pressure cookers. It’s a physics problem – you can’t safely have 15psi of pressure in a very hot container without making it out of something very strong. And strong, when it comes to kitchenware, means heavy. An 8.5qt pressure cooker is going to be heavy – but the good news is that it’s not as heavy as a cast iron dutch oven and the nice thing about the Fissler is that it has two big solid plastic handles that are easy to grab on to for transporting it on/off the stove.

Ok, back to the food. The recipe was a modified version of one of the ATK recipies; it called for BBQ sauce, but as I didn’t have any at home, and I prefer my ribs to be more on the umami/savory end of the spectrum rather than on the sweeter end, I substituted a bottle of Trader Joe’s Soyaki Teriaki sauce instead.

Here is my very modified version:
3 racks of pork ribs (about 2.5lbs per rack), from the local discount club warehouse
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp ground pepper
1 tbsp salt
hot sauce
1 bottle Teriyaki sauce
1.5 cups water

1. Mix the brown sugar, ground pepper, and salt together in a bowl and set aside
2. Put out the racks of ribs in front of you on the counter, and rub them down with hot sauce. You can use sriracha if you like them hotter, or use whatever brand of hot sauce you have sitting in your kitchen door. I used a fairly liberal amount of hot sauce and the ribs weren’t hot at all – they just had a bit of sharpness to them that was flavour more than anything.
3. Rub the ribs with the sugar/salt/pepper mixture, and cut them into two-rib pieces
4. Put the pressure cooker on the stove
* And a word of warning here: pressure cookers are dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. You need to read the manual before you use your pressure cooker.
5. Add the water to the pressure cooker, ensuring you’re at least at the minimum fill line.
6. Stand the ribs up, meat side out in the pot.
7. Douse the ribs liberally with the teriyaki sauce; for 7.5lbs of ribs, use the whole 21oz bottle. At least 2 cups.
8. Cook for 30 minutes at the high setting, and do a quick release of pressure after the 35 minutes is up.
9. Baste the ribs with sauce from the pot and broil them under your broiler for 4-5 minutes.

The total prep time was about 10 minutes, and the total cooking time, including the pressure cooker warm-up and broiling was about 45 minutes.

And how were the ribs? Here’s the important thing: they were perfectly cooked; fall-off-the bone tender, none of the toughness that I have sometimes seen in meat cooked in slow cookers, and none of the rubberiness that you can see in other types of quick cooking methods (e.g. microwave). Just perfect.

And how was the flavour? Pretty good; for a $2.99 bottle of teriyaki sauce and about $0.50 worth of hot sauce and salt/pepper/sugar, it wasn’t bad. Sure, the ATK recipe would probably have been better, but this was just what I had at home, and it let lots of the meat flavour come through, with the flavour of the sauce and seasoning in the background. We’ve all had ribs slathered in BBQ sauce where you can’t really taste the meat over the liquid smoke and sugar flavour. Not these ones at all – slightly savoury, minimally sweet, and all meat, just how I like them.

One hint though: I would recommend not skipping the broiling step. Cooking red meat in a pressure cooker is a bit like sous vide cooking in that you run the risk of getting nondescript, wet, grey meat out of the pot when you’re done. The broiling step just slightly dries and crisps the surface of the meat, without taking away any of the inner moisture, to perfect the texture. You can skip it, but I wouldn’t.

So that was my first foray into pressure cooking. Nobody had to wipe anything off the ceiling, and everyone ate way more meat then they had originally planned at the start of the meal, always a good sign. I can’t believe that it cooked 7.5 lbs of ribs in 35 minutes, and not only did it cook them so fast, it cooked them better than I could have ever hoped to do on a BBQ without probably years of practice to get them right. It looks like my grandparents were on to something – delicious food, and fast.

The Fissler came out of the sink looking like it had when it came out of the box, and was easy to use and performed as advertised. No complaints there.

My thanks to my friend at ATK for the amazing suggestion and recipe. More to come…

Tags: Cooking at home

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