When I was growing up, pressure cookers were objects of fear. All those tales of PCs blowing up, dontcha know. I've even got a friend who still bears the scars from a nasty accident she had while she was stationed in Germany with her husband and tried using a pressure cooker to do canning. Well, it's a new era for pressure cookers, and boy can they be mamma's little helper!
Actually, cooks here in the US just don't seem to use pressure cookers much, although they are a great energy-saving essential in many countries. A single pressure cooker, using a small, single heat source, can cook an amazing, multi-course meal. They are a staple in many Indian kitchens, for instance. I still have some residual fear of the old stove-top kind, but when I saw this on QVC a number of years ago, I took the plunge. It's electric, and about the same size as a 6 quart slow cooker.
I just love this thing. For some recipes, like those for stews and pot roasts, it produces a much tastier result than a slow-cooker. My non-scientific brain attributes this to the pressure pushing all those flavors into the meat (picture tiny men, with hammers, pounding the flavor in). You CAN'T turn it on in the morning and come back 8-10 hours later to a pot full of whatever like you can with a slow cooker, but if you prep your ingredients ahead of time, you CAN have a very tasty, used-to-take-forever meal in about 1/3 the time it would take on the stove top. And because it's electric, your kitchen isn't 500 degrees hotter. Beef stew in the PC, is outstanding, as is pot roast and sauerbraten.
This morning I made black beans, ranchero style. From scratch. Dry beans are cheap, cheap, cheap, and are wonderfully versatile. This bag o' beans cost anywhere from $ .99 to $1.29 where I live.
- cooked bacon, drained and crumbled
- liquid* -- enough to not quite cover the beans
Dump the beans into a pot & add enough water to cover them by about 3". Bring to a boil, remove from heat & cover. Let them soak for 45 minutes, then drain.
Put the beans in the pressure cooker, along with the salsa, the bacon, and enough liquid to not quite cover them. You just want some of those bean heads poking through the surface. What kind of liquid can you use? I usually use a mix of water and chicken stock (home made, or low sodium), and sometimes add a touch of beer if I'm feeling frisky. Beef or veggie stock might be good too, or a little V8.
Put the cover on the cooker and set on high for 15-17 minutes. Bigger beans (pinto, kidney, calico, lima) take a little longer, but I usually don't set it for more than 20 minutes. Hit "Start", then go do something else, like chain piece or cut fabric. The 15-17 minutes is actually the time it takes to cook once the appliance has achieved the necessary pressure; it translates to about 25-30 minutes elapsed cooking time. Let the cooker cool down, release the pressure & open it up. Yum.
The variations are endless. You can leave out the bacon & the salsa, and just use liquid. You can add left-over ham. You can saute a little onion and green/red pepper to add. You can add a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, or some chopped tomatoes from your garden. Chopped cilantro is awesome. How about some corn stirred in at the end?