Sunday, 27 March 2011

Pressure cookers are just not for me

Ever since I last blogged about pressure cookers (three years ago I discovered, to my amazement) I’ve had this sense of unfinished business. They are such a frugal way of cooking it seemed wrong not to give them another try. I was prompted to have go by the publication of a really inspiring book by my colleague Richard Ehrlich called 80 Recipes for Your Pressure Cooker.

Now you can see how many of the recipes I fancied from the number pink post-it notes marking the pages. I really thought this was going to be it. The big breakthrough. I unearthed the pressure cooker from the back of a cupboard, dusted it down, managed to find the instruction book (no small feat) gave it the recommended checkover and was ready to go.

I chose a delicious-looking recipe for chicken with sherry, mustard and olives as I had most of the ingredients and followed the instructions to the letter. Everything seemed to go fine - the pressure indicator went up, steam emitted, the cooker burbled comfortingly - the 10 minutes recommended cooking time was up and .... the chicken wasn’t cooked.

I put the lid on again brought it back up to pressure, cooked it for another 5 minutes which did the trick but worryingly it didn’t smell particularly appetising despite the presence of onions, garlic (my addition) and fino sherry

The end result while looking just about presentable was almost inedible. The skin, despite the fact I’d browned it, was wet, limp and colourless. The onions were devoid of flavour. No taste of mustard, olives or even sherry despite the fact I’d used the full 100ml Richard recommended. My husband laboured manfully through it but basically it was crap.

There are a number of reasons why that might have been the case:

* I could have failed to follow the instructions. Always possible but I was careful to read them through again carefully

* My AGA plates might not have been sufficiently hot to get the wretched thing up and running. Maybe but the thermostat didn’t show it was running slow. And I couldn’t find anything that suggested you shouldn’t use a pressure cooker on an AGA

* Maybe the gasket needed replacing. Again possible but I’d only used it a couple of times (and the result had been equally unsatisfactory then). And it didn’t look or feel as if the rubber had perished

* It’s not a particularly good model. Could be. Tower is a reliable make, long associated with pressure cookers, however it doesn’t get very good reviews here

* Richard’s recipe didn’t work. No way. It sounded good - it should have been good. I’m sure if he’d made it it would have been good . . .

* Pressure cookers and I are just incompatible. The most likely explanation. I’ve never liked microwaves either . . .

Anyway if you ARE a pressure cooker fan let me recommend the book. It’s got lots of lovely frugal - and not so frugal recipes - in it I can’t wait to try including a couple of cracking meat loaves, a great-sounding shin of beef with an Asian dipping sauce you seem to be able to rustle up in a quarter of an hour and an awesome New England blueberry pudding. Only I’m going to have to find another way to cook them.

So, you pressure cooker lovers out there - what do you think I did wrong? And tell me why you like yours?


Ren Behan said...

Dear Fiona, oh dear! Sounded so promising. I actually love my pressure cooker and most often use it whip up a big batch of Bolognese to freeze up. I'm always on the hunt for new recipies so will give this book a whirl. I wonder whether the AGA has something to do with it...though once the pressure is up it does need a very low heat, I find, so the AGA should have been good for this part. Hope you try it again on another recipe! Ren

Fiona Beckett said...

Well you don't need a pressure cooker if you have an Aga but it should have been hot enough to get up the pressure and the indicator went up as it should have done. I'm sorry. I hate them with a passion. But the book as I said is full of good ideas

Cook in a Curry said...

Love pressure cookers and we have been using them in my family in India for 4 generations now. I use it not just for pulses but chicken, pork, lamb and veggies. But having a gas hob helps get the heat really high I suppose. Plus I tend to go by how many whistles it will take depending on what I'm cooking. Might sound silly but it works. Once cooked letting the steam rest for a few minutes and its ready.

Fiona Beckett said...

Previously I've done that but the instructions on this recipe - and for this type of recipe in my handbook - said to reduce the heat quickly

I suspect it's me - or my pressure cooker.

Caroline said...

I've decided that this is one toy I definitely don't need - great for batch cooking = bored singleton eating the same meal forever! My mum only ever used it for cooking the Christmas pud. She got rid of it years ago now.

Sorry you and your pressure cooker don't get on, it's always a shame to have a failure.

Sarah said...

I've never really been tempted to get one. My French ex-mil used to use one all the time, but I like things cooked at the proper pace (I don't cook in the microwave either).

Fiona Beckett said...

C - agree. There are lots of gadgets that are tempting but this ain't one of them!

And yes, Sarah it's all about keeping an eye on what's going on - smelling it, hearing it, tasting it. You simply can't do that with a sealed container

josordoni said...

I love my pressure cooker but only for certain things. I am not certain that I would have tried chicken, for me a delicate meat like that loses too much flavour under pressure, you end up with delicious soup but rags of meat.

I have an old-fashioned Hi-Dome with weights on top, no automatic release. I like it because the top pressure is 15psi rather than the 10 on the auto machines. This suits me for the stocks, beans, brisket, oxtail kind of things I use it for. Oh, and peel for marmalade which it is excellent for.

But for other things that it is recommended for, like Christmas pudding and Steak and Kidney Pudding, I really do prefer a gentle steaming for hours the old fashioned way.

It's just a tool in the end, to be used judiciously.

Jean said...

My Mum used to use a pressure cooker and I hated it when it would start hissing and rattling and someone would have to put the metal valve on the top, for some reason that person was usually me.

No, I won't be trying to cook with one :-(

cooksandlay said...

Hi Fiona. Your post reminds me of my childhood Sunday lunches with a delicious pressure cooker meal from Mom. You're right, pressure cookers are for everyone. Nice piece, I like it. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Hi Fiona, so sorry you had such a bad experience with your pressure cooker! I am not familiar with the recipes in that cook (live in Italy so I don't have an American Pressure Cooker books) but I have a blog about pressure cooking and I think I know what might have gone wrong -- too much liquid boiled instead of braising the chicken.

As long as your pressure cooker reached pressure your AGA is absolutely fine and your gasket is Ok. If the pressure cooker never reached pressure then undercooking could also be an issue.

Consult your pressure cooker manual for the minimum liquid requirement for your pressure cooker, then under-shoot it a bit (because the chicken will also release it's own liquids). Or, use a steamer basket or rack to keep the chicken pieces lifted out of the liquid for a steam-roast.

Here is my chicken recipe to try..
Ligurian Lenmon & Olive Chicken

Later this week I will publish a whole chicken in the pressure cooker recipe - tender, moist, with crispy skin!

I hope to help change your mind about pressure cooking! I'm nuts about it and love helping people and sharing my recipes!



P.S. So glad to have found your blog and to have the opportunity to interact with a respected cook book author!

hip pressure cooking
making pressure cooking hip, one recipe at a time!

L Vanel said...

I am sorry you didn't enjoy your dinner, what a bummer! The Aga should have nothing to do with the results. I have found when it comes to pressure cooking that timing is very important. You count time just as soon as the pressure valve is sending out a good hard spout of steam, and only then. It's surprising that your poultry wasn't fully cooked after 10 minutes, which makes me think that perhaps somehow the pressure didn't get up high enough. Good pressure cooker recipes are hard to find. I was thinking about doing a series of the recipes I have found. I'll share them with you. Don't give up!

Fiona Beckett said...

Well it could have been that Lucy although the instruction book said to turn down the heat once the indicator had popped up. Maybe not enough steam. You should definitely try some of Richard's recipes though - they're great.

And elle pee I actually used slightly less liquid than the instruction book recommended. They said 300ml minimum and I used 250ml which was the amount Richard recommended in the recipe. Your recipe looks great anyway. If I ever summon up the energy to have another go I'll give it a try. (Nice blog)

I'm still with you notsupermum . . .

And thanks for your feedback Lynne. Interesting you should say that about chicken. People say the same thing about fish but if you can't use it for either it has a fairly limited use (though I have yet to try it for beef). Prefer a slow cooker for poaching chicken which is really very good. Or the Aga of course.

earlybird said...

I love my pressure cooker although I used it a lot more when my kids were small than I do now. It's a Silit and has two sizes of pans and one very simple top. I've had it for 20 years (although obviously I've changed valves etc in that time)

It makes a very passable risotto when you can't be bothered to stand and stir (which does sometimes happen!), I like making stock in it because it doesn't make the house smell (but an Aga would be even better for this) and I use it for pre-cooking oranges for marmalade and for lentils. Not much else these days but I'd be loath to see it go...