Madhur Jaffrey recommends this pressure cookerWhy a pressure cooker is like magic
I f you ask, many people will tell you that you cannot find Indian food in Racine, Wisconsin. The one Indian restaurant we did have closed a while ago, and it was not spectacular to begin with. This is too bad. Amy is intoxicated by Indian spices. We have made many trips to the Udupi Palace in Schaumburg, and also their all-vegetarian location in Chicago on Devon. We have tried a number of Indian restaurants in Milwaukee, but not Maharaja yet. My sister raves about Maharaja. In the meantime, though, we cooked up an outstanding Indian recipe last night — right in our own home.
You see, when it became clear that my job and America’s economy were both going to tank at the very same time, there were a few things I wanted to obtain in preparation for the civilization’s collapse. One of the most important items was a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker conserves energy, and magically transforms humble elements like beans, bones, and inexpensive meats into delicious and satisfying suppers in a third of the time that would otherwise be required. The world’s greatest cuisines have been brought forth because cooks were forced to create recipes from limited provisions. If our grocery budget was going to be slashed, then at least we would have a quality, transformative tool with which to make the best of our more modest rations.
Pressure cookers on ‘Good Eats’ with Alton Brown
As with so many other food revelations, I first witnessed the miracle of pressure cooking on Alton Brown’s Food Network show Good Eats. The episode “Pressure” explored concepts like “soup” (from the German sup), “broth” and “stock” — and also how cooking under pressure magically coaxes every bit of tasty and nutritious goodness out of ordinary, everyday ingredients.
The more I studied pressure cookers, the more I wanted one. For example, I love Cuban black beans and rice and Louisiana red beans and rice. Both are better if you use dry beans, soaked overnight, instead of canned beans. The problem is, though, that even pre-soaked beans can still require two hours or longer to simmer. By using a pressure cooker instead, the cooking time can be cut to 25 or 30 minutes. Pressure cookers also cut cooking time for all sorts of stews and braised dishes. Goulash can be cooked in under 16 minutes, pozole in 12 or 13. The possibilities go on and on. Brightly colored, vitamin-rich vegetables. Whole chickens. Southern-style split pea soup with ham that cooks for just 10 minutes. What finally made me pull the trigger was Indian food. I read that pressure cookers are considered standard equipment by Indian cooks — absolutely essential for their curries and dals. I favor a good curry. That meant we had to have a pressure cooker.
Well, two actually. In my research, the brand of pressure cooker which impressed me as the most highly regarded was Kuhn Rikon (pronounced KOON REE-kon), from Switzerland. Their most popular model for my purposes seemed to be the two-pot Duromatic Duo Set pictured above. It comes with a 5-liter pot and a 2-liter pan with a steaming trivet. There are two lids — one glass lid, one pressure cooking lid — which fit either pan, so only one pan can cook under pressure at a time. Five liters equals 5.28 quarts, which is about as small as you would want to go for your main cooker. It’s plenty for the two of us, but family chefs would probably prefer the 7-Liter model — or even the 12-Quart Professional Stockpot model if that family is really large.
Cooking at high altitude
It makes sense that the Swiss would use pressure cookers. The last time I drove through Switzerland, I noticed that they have some mountains there. Plus, I remember from camping in the Rockies that cooking at altitude takes longer, consuming additional fuel, which becomes more scarce the higher you go. In the preface to the little cookbook that comes with the pressure cooker, Kuhn Rikon president Rudolf Keller writes that the average Swiss household has three pressure cookers: “When I was growing up, if I didn’t see a KUHN RIKON Duromatic pressure cooker on the stove, I seriously wondered if we’d be having dinner.”
Pressure cooker safety
When our new Duo first arrived, I did more reading than cooking. There are a few things to know about these pots before you use one. Previous generations of pressure cookers were feared by the whole family. They reportedly made menacing hissing noises and would blow up from time to time.The models of the newest generation, like my Kuhn Rikon, feature redundant safety releases and are virtually silent during cooking. Regardless, you must never fill a pressure cooker more than two-thirds full of food, because the remaining space is necessary in order for steamy pressure to build up. A pot that’s too full defeats the whole purpose.
How to use it
There are two levels of cooking pressure, indicated on our Kuhn Rikon by two distinct red lines which emerge as the valve stem pushes gradually upward from the top of the lid. Some foods are cooked at the lower pressure level (0.4 bar / 5.8 psi), others at the higher level (0.8 bar / 11.6 psi). There are two rates for releasing pressure — “natural,” which means taking the cooker off the heat and waiting five minutes or so for the valve stem to drop all the way back down, and “rapid,” which means either using a wooden spoon to hold the valve stem down and letting the steam rush out, or running some cool tap water over the edge of the lid at the sink. The method you use depends on the food you’re cooking. Natural release should, for instance, be used with beans, or else they’ll lose their skins.
Pressure cooker recipes, expertise
The Kuhn Rikon manual explains these things clearly, along with the care to be taken in cleaning these beautiful, hefty pots (soapy water — no abrasives, please!). However, I also found it very helpful to read Pressure Perfect:. The book’s author, James Beard Award-winner Lorna Sass, is “America’s leading authority on vegan and pressure cooking.” In this book, she “distills her two decades of experience into one comprehensive volume.” It’s a solid introduction to pressure cooking — and it includes over 200 delicious and healthy recipes. Lorna Sass is also a blogger.
Madhur Jaffrey recipes
For guidance in cooking Indian food specifically, I turned to Madhur Jaffrey, the Indian actress whose cookbooks have won 6 James Beard awards, and whose Indian cooking shows have popularized Indian cookery in the Western world.
Of the many Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks available at Amazon.com, I chose Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking. The recipes in it are indeed quick and easy, a number of them do include instructions for pressure-cooking, and there are example menus showing how to combine the recipes for a simple meal or a fairly elegant dinner. In this book, Ms. Jaffrey recommends Kuhn Rikon Duromatic pressure cookers by name:
Of all the pressure cookers I tested, the one I liked the best — it really made cooking a breeze — was a Duromatic Pressure Cooker made by Kuhn Rikon Corp.
Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘Smothered Lamb’ recipe
Before buying Jaffrey’s cookbook, we tested a recipe for Smothered Lamb (or Pork or Beef) that we came across using the “Look Inside!” feature at Amazon.com. (You’ll find the recipe on Page 19 by searching for “painless.”) It’s known as Labdhara Gosht, and it’s painless because virtually all of the ingredients — the lamb, onion, ginger, tomato, cilantro, hot green chiles, turmeric, cumin, yogurt, tomato paste, and salt — go into one bowl, as pictured.
When the time is up, this recipe calls for a quick release of the pressure. We use a wooden spoon to hold the valve down and let the steam rush out — then remove the lid, filling the kitchen with the exotic aroma of Indian spices and juicy, tender lamb.
Even though it was technically a Sunday, we prepared the cookbook‘s “Saturday Dinner” menu of Smothered Lamb, Rice with Peas and Dill (ours also had carrots), and Yogurt with Tomato and Cucumber — a simple and homey meal that’s also spicy and out of the ordinary. We have only begun to explore pressure cooking, but already Amy is making homemade stock from every chicken and turkey carcass we have. We have enjoyed all sorts of dishes, ranging from improvised chili with beans to West African Chicken Stew with Spicy Sweet Potato-Peanut Sauce, and we have barely scratched the surface. I only wish that I could peek inside to see what is actually happening to the food during that mysterious 10 or 20 or 30 minutes, because it really is like a magic trick.