Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Tale of Two Critters

I have a confession to make. I am a pressure cooking virgin. I have always wanted to learn how to use a pressure cooker, but I admit that I have allowed myself to be intimidated by them for as long as I can remember. But really, if you consider the fact that most of the pressure cookers I have seen, including the one I inherited from Matt’s grandma, are the old-style cooker that was reputed to explode at will if you used them incorrectly. Well, I am not exactly known for following directions precisely, so I just kept my distance from the little Vesuvius.
Recently, I received a newer model cooker from a friend who was cleaning out her house and finally, when Mom came to visit and I felt I had some level of moral support behind me, I decided to give it a shot.
In preparation for the parental visit, I picked up a number of items at the store to cook for them, and I couldn’t resist the lovely looking cross-cut beef shank. Not your usual cut of meat, but it reminded me of the cooking class Mom, my sister, and I took a few Christmases ago, so I though it would be fun.
The shanks were large, so I knew they would not all fit into the cooker, which gave me an idea. Since the pressure cooking is an experiment, let’s try this two ways. I put my pressure cooker to the test, alongside my 14 inch covered Mega Pan. (I love this pan)
This was the process:I seared two of the shanks and put them in the pressure cooker with some onion, celery, carrot and garlic (poised on a piece of foil, twisted like a pretzel to keep the meat off the bottom since I didn’t have a rack that would fit), added a cup of beef broth and a cup of red wine.I repeated the process with the remaining three shanks in my mega pan (except that I realized after sealing the cooker that I forgot to add any seasoning at all, so I tossed in some dried Italian herbs as well). Both pans got covered and the Mega Pan went into a 350 degree oven while the pressure pan stayed on a medium flame on the stove top.
The cooker’s manual said to cook it for about 35 minutes, which we did, but we had our doubts about whether the pan was properly sealed, because the safety lock never popped up, so we left it in a while longer and ended up pulling both pans out at the same time, after about 45 minutes.
When comparing the two side by side, I must say there was not a dramatic difference. The Mega Pan produced a more flavorful meat, partly from the herbs that I added, but not entirely, I don’t think. The meat was tender, but not falling apart.The pressure cooker brought forth a beef shank that was extremely tender, nearly falling apart, and quite tasty as well.I do think if we had removed it from the pan at the 35 minute mark, it would have been about equal to the other example. All in all, a good test! And I’ve decided that either method is great. I’m still a little nervous about the pressure cooker, but I will be intimidated no more! Although, to be honest, the oven method was much simpler, in my own opinion, and I can make more at a time that way, since I am accustomed to cooking large meals. So, you decide! Pressure? Or Pan?
Since I had so much time on my hands, I made my favorite Cream and Leek Risotto to go alongside it. (There is also an ulterior motive here.) I’ve posted this risotto before, but never had any decent pictures, so you’re going to get it again!
Some people are as intimidated by risotto as I am by pressure cookers, but it is really a very simple dish to prepare. The basic ingredients are a good rice (I use Arborio because it is readily available in my area), stock, and some kind of vegetable. There are as many variations as you can imagine.
The original recipe came from The Silver Spoon. For this risotto, you need a couple of nice leeks, thoroughly rinsed and very thinly sliced, using only the whites and light green parts. 2 cups of Arborio rice, a couple of tablespoons of butter, 6 cups chicken stock, ¾ cup heavy cream, and ½ cup parmesan cheese
Start by sautéing the leeks in the butter until soft, about 20 minutes.While you are doing this, warm your chicken stock in another pan. You should always add warm stock to the risotto. Adding cold stock will only slow down the cooking process. Add a couple of tablespoons of water, or in my case, the white wine that was in the glass I was drinking from, then stir in the rice so that all the grains are coated with all the lovely flavors in the pan and the butter is absorbed. A ladle or two at a time, add the stock and allow it to absorb into the rice before each addition, until you have used all six cups. Stir constantly. This will take some time, and you will think there is no way all that liquid will absorb, but trust me, it will. When all the stock is absorbed, stir in the cream. The original recipe says to garnish with the parmesan cheese, which I do, but I also add about a half cup to the risotto at this point.Now, what you have is a savory little side dish that can stand up to any hearty meal you put on the table. However, I must admit, that I sometimes make this dish, simply for the leftovers. Why, you may ask? Well, its like this. Because this recipe makes a fairly large amount, there is always leftover. When that happens (and I insure that it always does) I bring the cold risotto out the next morning, cook up a pound of pork sausage in a pan, then mix it in with the risotto and some more parmesan cheese, and form it into patties.Then I roll it in breadcrumbs and fry those little gems up in a pan.Voila! Breakfast. You just can’t beat this for a morning meal. They do tend to be somewhat fragile in the pan and you want to make sure your pan is good and hot to leave a good crust on the patties, but the effort is well worth the result. Your holiday houseguests will be raving about this one, and calling you Martha Stewart for your ingenuity in using up leftovers. Go ahead, try know you wanna.


ARLENE said...

My mother made her Sunday gravy in a pressure cooker for as long as I can remember, but I've always been totally intimidated by rhem. I remember the Christmas Eve my grandmother's exploded tripe all over her ceiling. I recently read that there are now digital pressure cookers that don't have the petcock thingy. Your risotto cakes sound incredible. I adore risotto and once made the cakes at a CIA cooking class I took. There's never any risotto left over when I make it, though.

Pam said...

It doesn't sound to me like you used your pressure cooker the way it is intended. A pressure cooker needs to be brought up to pressure over high heat, and then reduced to maintain pressure. It should not take the same amount of time as a dish braised in the oven. That's one of the benefits of a pressure cooker, it cooks in less time. Find some pressure cooker recipes on the net and give one of them a try, I think I've done some on my blog too.

Kim said...

Sounds like you are having fun experimenting in the kitchen. I've never used a pressure cooker and I'm not sure if I feel brave enough. Don't know if I want to risk a random kitchen explosion. Interesting the results where they cooked in the same amount of time.

As for your risotto cakes.....I'll wake up to those any day!

Ty'sMommy said...

Since I've had a couple of questions about my actual cooking method, I felt I should clarify that although I didn't mention all of the details, we did actually bring the cooker up to temperature over a high heat before starting the timer, as is directed in both the manual and some recipes I referred to. The cooker would definitely have been faster if I had taken it out when it was recommended, but I chose to leave it in and let it tenderize further. After my dad looked at the cooker, we suspect that the safety lock itself may have been defective.
Thanks for your great comments! I will definitely be trying it again sometime on another recipe.