Pressure? You Bet. Electric Pressure Cooker Ssssssssshhhhhhh!

Chefs, Cooking, Gadgets By Oct 13, 2011

Use an electric pressure cooker …  find quick culinary happiness. Risotto cooks in 7 minutes. No stirring. Interested?

When Amar Santana tells me that I need to buy an electric pressure cooker, I buy one. The chef-owner of the newly opened Broadway by Amar Santana restaurant in Laguna Beach (and former executive chef at Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza), promised me scrumptious risotto in seven minutes.

I drove to Costco.

There among the skillet sets and ice cream machines, a big stack of boxed pressure cookers formed a kind of appliance pyramid. Six-quart beauties made by Cuisinart. One was mine for $69.99.

And according to the words on the package, this not-much-bigger-than-my-slow-cooker gizmo could cook up to 70 percent faster than traditional stove-top methods. And in addition to variable pressure settings, lid off, it simmers or browns or sautés.

But as I unboxed it, I couldn’t help remembering by other experience long ago in my tiny apartment in Lincoln Heights. Over 30 years ago, I blew up dinner using a cheap stovetop pressure cooker. I can still remember the eerie sound; rock, rock, rock, sssscccccchhhh, kaboom.

I’d like to think that I’m savvier now, besides, the directions in the instruction-recipe booklet seemed easy. Besides, would Amar lie to me?

After reading, I started on page 23 with the Green Chicken Chili. Raw (un-soaked) pinto beans, chicken and well, the whole caboodle, took less than one hour. I, of course, took some liberties with the recipe, garnishing the soupy concoction with baked strips of corn tortillas, shredded Jack cheese and some chunks of avocado. It was delicious.

Then …

Next, a classic beef stew. Of course, the formula started with browning big chunks of chuck roast. I set the heat to brown and was concerned that the oil seems to collect in the sides of the pot. But the meat browned nicely in spite of it. Again, the time spent from start to finish was less than an hour and the results were very good. The beef pressured cooked with a mirepoix (finely chopped onion, carrot, celery) which gave the sauce a pleasing taste and aroma. Take note: my sous, husband Phil, checked the wine. OK, he said.

Only whole baby carrots and peas were added for the final cooking. Me? I’d add a parsnip or two. Or some baby turnips. Maybe some peeled celery root cut the size of baby carrots.

To sop up the juices, I served the stew over wide egg noodles.

The two dishes were a nice start, but I wanted expert advice, so I loaded my electric whiz-bang cooker in my car and headed for Broadway by Amar Santana.

Loading Arborio rice and hen of the woods mushrooms into the machine, Santana explained that he realized the value of a pressure cooker when cooking at the Pigs & Pinot culinary fundraiser in the Sonoma Valley.

“I was cooking with (Chef) Marc Forgione and we had to create two pork dishes in less than two hours,” he said, punctuating the sentence with one of his signature belly laughs. “We did pig ears and pig cheeks. We had a pressure cooker, so they were braised in 30 minutes. Tender, so tender; we breaded and deep fried them.”

I took a seat at one of the six cushy chairs at the restaurant’s chef counter, perches blessed with a close-up view of the kitchen. I watched as he secured the pressure cooker’s lid and pushed the “high pressure” setting and the timer for 7 minutes.

It took 5 minutes for enough pressure to build up for the timer to start the countdown, so it took a whooping 12 minutes for the risotto to be ready. He stirred in mascarpone, butter, grated Gruyere cheese and minced green onion stalks.

“People have issues with cooking risotto at home, they just don’t want to stir, and stir, and stir,” he said, spooning the creamy mixture into bowls.

Perfect, the risotto was perfect; a smidgen of chew at the very heart of each kernel, the rest alluringly creamy and filled with flavor. Earthy rich, accomplished without continuous stirring.

For his hummus, he says that he pressure-cooks dried, soaked garbanzo beans about 35 minutes. Beets pressure cook in 6 minutes.

OK, I know you may want one. A couple of things, my friends. First, read the instruction booklet. It’s really not complicated. Second, don’t place the pressure cooker under your kitchen cabinets; when you release the steam, it’ll wreak havoc with the finish. And third, when you release the steam using the “quick pressure release,” do it gradually; there is a little protrusion on the side of the valve – hook that little protrusion with tongs or the end of a spoon or knife – and gently lift. Don’t even think about using your hands.

Broadway by Amar Santana restaurant is at 328 Glenneyre Street, Laguna Beach. 949-715-8234

Classic Beef Stew a la Electric Pressure Cooker
Yield: 8 to 10 cups, about 8 servings
3 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more if needed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 medium-size garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup beef broth
2 cups peeled baby carrots
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
For serving: 12 ounces egg noodles, cooked al dente, drained
1. Pat meat dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Place oil in Cuisinart electric pressure cooker. Select browning setting. When oil is hot brown meat in several batches (do not crowd meat) and set aside (you may need to add a little bit more oil), placing meat on plate after it is brown. Select sauté setting. Stir in onion; stir to scrape up and browned bits and cook 2 minutes. Add chopped carrot and celery; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute.
2. Stir in wine, again scraping up any browned bits that have accumulated on bottom of pot. Cook until red wine reduces in volume by half. Stir in tomato paste. Add reserved beef and any accumulated juices, bay leaf and broth. Cover and select high pressure. Set the cooker’s timer for 10 minutes. When audible beep sounds use Quick Pressure Release to release pressure. When float valve drops, remove lid carefully, tilting it away from you to allow steam to disperse. Add baby carrots to pot; cover and select high pressure. Set cooker’s timer for 6 minutes. When audible beep sounds use Natural Pressure Release to release pressure. When float value drops remove lid carefully, tilting it away from you to allow steam to disperse.
3. To thicken stew, strain the solids from the stew liquid, reserving both (I used a fat separator to remove fat – it’s a pitcher-like device with a spout close to the bottom to drain off lean liquid and leave the fat behind). Discard bay leaf. In a small bowl blend softened butter and flour to make a paste. Return liquid to cooker and bring to boil by selecting browning setting. When boiling, whisk in butter-flour paste. Select simmer. Once liquid thickens slightly, add meat mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning. When hot, add peas and cook just long enough for peas to heat up, about 1 minute.
4. Place noodles in shallow bowls and top with stew. Sprinkle parsley on top and serve.
Nutrition information (per 1 cup serving without noodles): 220 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 12.4 g fat, 3.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 15.7g carbohydrates, 11.5 g protein, 500 mg sodium, 3.1 g fiber
Source: adapted from Cuisinart Recipe Booklet that accompanies the Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker

Green Chicken Chili
Yield: about 10 cups or 8 servings
1 cup dried pinto beans
5 cups water
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled, finely chopped
2 medium-size red bell peppers, cored, seeded, diced
2 large jalapeno chilies, seeded, minced
4 medium-sized garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 (7 ounces each) cans chopped mild green chilies, undrained
1 chipotle chili, see cook’s notes
3 pounds bone-in chicken (breasts and thighs), skin removed
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Optional garnish: grated Jack cheese, thin strips of toasted corn tortillas, small chunks of ripe avocado
Cook’s notes: Chipotle chilies are sold in small cans in Hispanic markets and many supermarkets. They are packed in a tomato-based sauce called adobo. Remove the chili from the can (still covered with sauce) and chop it before adding to the soup. Leftover chilies and sauce can be placed in an airtight container and frozen. OR, buy Chipotle Toppers by Clemente Jacques at Hispanic markets; it is a squeeze bottle filled with pureed chipotles in adobo sauce. I prefer to use this prepared produce because it saves a lot of time. Use about 1 1/4 tablespoons of that sauce. Use caution when working with fresh chilies; wash work surface thoroughly and do NOT touch eyes or face.
1. Place dried pinto beans and water in electric pressure cooker. Select high pressure. Set pressure cooker’s timer for 15 minutes. When audible beep sounds use Natural Pressure Release to release pressure. When float valve drops, remove lid carefully, tilting away from you to allow steam to disperse. Test beans; if they aren’t tender, select simmer and simmer until just barely tender. Remember beans will be heated again in the chili. (I needed to simmer the beans 6 more additional minutes.)
2. Drain beans and set aside. Wash and dry the cooking pot.
3. Place 1/2 tablespoon of butter and oil in cooking pot. Select sauté setting. Once butter and oil are hot, stir in onion; cook 2 minutes. Stir in carrot; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in bell pepper and jalapeno; cook 4 to 5 minutes, or until all vegetables are softened. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute. Stir in canned green chilies and chipotle.
4. Add chicken, broth and salt. Secure lid and select high pressure. Set cooker’s timer for 7 minutes. When audible beep sounds let it sit for 5 minutes. Use Natural Pressure Release to release pressure. When float value drops remove lid carefully, tilting it away from you to allow steam to disperse. Using a large slotted spoon remove the chicken and place it on a plate. When cool enough to handle, remove chicken from bones and chop or shred it. Discard bones and return chicken to pot.
5. In a small bowl stir butter and flour together to make a paste. Select browning setting. When mixture comes to a boil, whisk in butter-flour mixture. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish as desired. (I like cheese, thin strips of toasted corn tortillas and avocado chunks.)
Nutrition information (per 1 cup serving): 218 calories, 30 percent of calories from fat, 7.5 g fat, 2.8 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 15g protein, 900 mg sodium, 2.6 g fiber
Source: adapted from Cuisinart Recipe Booklet that accompanies the Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker

Amar Santana’s Wild Mushroom Risotto
Yield: 4 side dish servings or 2 larger first course servings
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 shallot, minced
3/4 cup loosely packed wild mushrooms (halved or quartered), see cook’s notes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons mascarpone
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons grated Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons minced green onion stalks (dark green part only)
Cook’s notes: Santana uses mushrooms called hen of the woods mushrooms, but says that other mushroom varieties will be delicious too.
1. Place rice, broth, wine, shallot and mushrooms in electric pressure cooker; stir to combine. Secure lid. Select high pressure setting. Set cooker’s timer to 7 minutes. When audible beep sounds use Natural Pressure Release to release pressure. When float value drops remove lid carefully, tilting it away from you to allow steam to disperse.
2. Stir in mascarpone, butter, Gruyere and minced green onion stalks. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve.
Nutrition information (per side dish serving):  203 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 8.5 g fat, 3.1 g saturated fat, 49 mg cholesterol, 25 g carbohydrates, 6.5g protein, 475mg sodium, 1.9 g fiber

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