by Nicole Lee
I bought a pressure cooker recently, and it’s been an interesting experience. While many people advocate the multiple uses of a pressure cooker — everything from cooking rice to making desserts like flan — I think it’s best for meat. Specifically, meat that’s very forgiving if you overcook it. I’m talking about the cheaper tougher cuts of meat like shanks and pot roast, and dark meat if you prefer poultry. Cooking tough cuts of meat the traditional way usually entails a lengthy 2-hour braise or roast in the oven. With a pressure cooker, you can make the same meal in a quarter of the time. Who wouldn’t want that?
I recently signed up for a meat CSA with Marin Sun Farms. They ship out a large pallet of cold storage containers to specific locations in the Bay Area about once a month, and in them are the packages of frozen meat that you’ve ordered. I opted for Package #3 which is a nice mix of ground, steak cut, and braise-worthy meats. The best part about it, to me at least, is that I’m always surprised by what I get. It’s surprise meat, but in a good way! As much as I love braised meats from cuts like shanks and pot roasts, I don’t like waiting around 2+ hours until the food is done, especially on a weeknight. Enter the pressure cooker.
The pressure cooker is a fiddly beast, I have to admit. The trick is to seal the cooker properly, and then you have to make sure the cooker is set to high pressure by turning up the heat. After the little plastic indicator pops up to show that you have pressure, you have to sort of monitor the heat so that the pressure is maintained at that high level. For my particular pressure cooker, I let it stay on high heat for a little longer after the indicator has popped, then adjust the heat to just below medium-low. It might be different on other stovetops. It’s a bit of a trial and error, and I wouldn’t stray too far away from the kitchen if you’re doing this for the first time.
So far I’ve made osso bucco and chicken adobo with it. For the osso bucco, I have used both beef cross-cut shanks and lamb cuts. I used this recipe from Dad Cooks Dinner, but altered it slightly to taste. For example, I am more of a red wine aficionado, so opted to go for red instead of white. It’s really quite easy — sear the meat, saute the aromatics, deglaze as much as possible with the liquids, and prepare the pressure cooker according to manufacturer’s instructions. For Monday night dinner (seen in the photos above), I also added a quarter cup of French lentils (or lentilles du Puy) to soak up most of the sauce.
The first time I used the pressure cooker for this, I was amazed at how tender the meat was after only 30-40 minutes. The meat literally fell off the bone. Braising meats was a task that often required me to wait until 10 or 11 p.m. to have dinner. Now I can actually have my meal at a respectable time. Also, perhaps it’s just me, but I think the meat was juicier and more flavorful when cooked in the pressure cooker.
As for chicken adobo, I simply marinated about 5 lbs of chicken thighs in 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup vinegar, with a bit of black peppercorns, two bay leaves, and two crushed garlic cloves. Then cooked it in the pressure cooker for about 10 minutes. I had to wait another 20 minutes or so to reduce the sauce, but you don’t have to do that if you prefer a more watery sauce. I sort of winged this particular recipe based on how long it usually takes to cook adobo (about 30 minutes to an hour) — it’s probably easier to do it the old-fashioned way. I was just sort of in a crazy pressure cooker mood based on earlier success with the shanks!
Side note: After using both the beef shanks and the lamb, I definitely have preference for the beef shanks. That bone marrow you get is absolutely divine. And beef shanks are usually the cheapest thing from the butcher so it’s a total win-win.
My next project will be to make stock or broth, which I understand takes only an hour, for what usually takes a whole day! I’ll report back on that once I’ve done it.