Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pressure Test

For years I have been fascinated by the much feared pressure cooker. I had never used one and I don't think my family had one when I was growing up.  All I knew about them were the stories of how they would blow up if you weren't careful. Careful? Yikes what does that mean? Can you leave it alone for 5 minutes or do you have to watch it and hold your breath hoping that nothing goes wrong? Pressure cookers have been around since the late 17th century so that can't be that bad can they?

One day last year I happened to be watching HSN and what comes on? A pressure cooker of course. This one wasn't the one like your grandmother had that was used on the stove top and you had to watch the temp and make sure it wasn't rattling too much on that stove top. No, this one was electric. Well I watched and learned all the things you could do with this machine. I decided I was in and ordered it. Now I had to wait for it to be delivered.

When the pressure arrived I couldn't wait to use it, but at the same time I was a little scared. Why was I scared? I have no idea other than having those horrible exploding stories in my mind. It took me a few days, but I was ready to use my new toy.  What to make? Something braised of course. A little secret to pressure cooker is you have to use liquid in it so making something braised or a soup is going to be the way to go unless you are using it to boil items.

My electric pressure cooker has a browning setting so it can get really hot and you don't have to start items in a separate pan on the stove. When you braise meat 9 times out of 10 the directions will tell you to brown the meat. Browning caramelizes the sugars in the meat and makes the dish taste all that much better.  Tonight's meat was oxtail and all I had to do was set it to browning add a little oil and it was time to brown the seasoned meat. Wow that was easy. I added my veggies and started putting in the liquids I was going to braise the oxtails in. For me that was red wine and some beef stock.

Now that all my ingredients were in the pressure cooker now was the real test, setting the pressure. My pressure cooker comes with two pressure settings, high and low. I was going to use high. I put the lid on, locked it, and set it to high. I have a timer on the pressure cooker and I set it to 45 minutes. Usually ox tail takes hours to become tender and fall off the bone, but with pressure you reduce your time. With the cooker being electric it was very quiet. It did make some noise at first when it was reaching the right pressure, but other than that nothing. That is until the timer went off.

When the timer went off the machine didn't turn off, it went to keep warm. Now I know that is not an option on stove top pressure cookers. I could be out of the room and not worry of any explosions. This was great. While it's on keep warm the pressure slowly releases, but it does have a steam relief valve if you don't want to wait. Time to eat.

I won't go into too many details, but the meat was juicy and tender. The flavors went through the meat and wasn't just in the liquid. The pressure pushes those flavors into the meat. To put it simply dinner was down right tasty. What did I have to fear? My kitchen was clean and I didn't have dinner splattered all over the kitchen like I feared. Did the pressure cooker pass the test? Did I? I think we both did with flying colors. The new electric pressure cookers are not the ones from grandma's day.

If you are asking what advantages are there for having a pressure cooker to braising on the stove or oven? Time and flavor are both advantages. You can take a frozen piece of chicken and have a wonderful flavorful fully cooked piece in 45 minutes compared to the time it would take to defrost and then cook the chicken.  Next time you question whether or not you should get a pressure cooker, go for it. You and your family will be pleasantly surprised.

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