Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cooking Under Pressure

Cooking Under Pressure by Chef Elizabeth Podsiadlo “The Opera Singing Chef”   May 2011
When I was growing up, there was nothing I loved more than coming home and smelling the delicious fragrance of my mom’s cooking.  Sadly, I don’t get to experience this much as I am the only one in my home that cooks.  I, like many of you, work and my schedule is quite hectic.  I don’t often have time to prepare those slow cooked meals but at the same time, I want my daughter to come home to a house filled with the good smells of dinner cooking
 As recent as a year ago, I taught a cooking class on how to use a pressure cooker.  I should preface this with the fact that I am no expert, but I decided to dive in head first.  I purchased a pressure cooker and did some experimenting. 
The first couple of dishes I made were “scary” to say the least, as I fully expected the cooker to blow up in my kitchen.  Remember “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”    
I purchased my pressure cooker for less than $50 and was happy to discover that it came with a well written safety manual, a recipe book and a video.  So, I had lots of “support.”   The newer pressure cookers typically have three safety locks.  You, as the user must be sure to follow the simple set of instructions before cooking.  I guarantee you that once you try this method of cooking you will become a fan of cooking with pressure.  
I recommend not trying to use “grandma’s aluminum pressure cooker” for several reasons.  Firstly, Aluminum is not a good metal to cook in and a lot of the older cookers are made using aluminum.  It leaches into your food and we don’t need any more contaminants than we already have.  Two, the gaskets do get old with time and can cause leaking, which can make a great mess.  Three, the pressure valve on top can become clogged with food or minerals from the steam.  If this happens you have a real problem on your hands.  Like a  “ka-boom, splat” kind of problem.
If you are using a cooker that is less than 5- years old, examine the rubber gasket and be sure there are no cracks.  It should be flexible and free of any debris.  The pressure release valves on these units are typically built into the lids.  Be sure it is loose and can be pushed up simply by pressing it from below.   If you can’t find the manual, email the manufacturer.  Tell them the model number and nine times out of ten, they will send you, at a small charge, a replacement manual or, they may have an online manual. 
Why use a pressure cooker?  Foods cook in less than half the time and they retain more of their minerals and vitamins.  Plus, you get more flavor.  In many cases, cooking with pressure pulls a lot more flavor from foods, like chicken for stock.  Less cooking time.  I cooked a beef brisket in one hour and 15 minutes, as oppose to four hours in the oven and it was tender and delicious.  So it saves time, keeps more of foods original nutrition, pulls more flavor from foods, especially meats.
It can save you money and lower your salt intake.  If you eat a lot of beans chances are you’re probably buying the canned ones.  However, if you use dried beans, soak them overnight, then pressure cook for 15 minutes you’ll eat a much healthier bean.  Home-cooked beans only have the salt you add in them, the canned has much more salt added to help stave off bacteria and to keep the beans flavor.   Beans are about one dollar a can and after you drain off the liquid, you have about one and one half cups of cooked beans.  The dried bags of beans after being soaked overnight, can add up more than 5 cups of uncooked beans.  The cost; about $1.50 per bag.  Half the cost of canned beans.   
For the environment When you cook your beans in a pressure cooker the time it takes to cook is less by about an hour and a half.  It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to cook beans in a pressure cooker, typically, and about 2 hours using a traditional method.
You may wonder, who thinks of these things, well, not just me.  There is a food movement out there called; “Slow Foods” that originated in Italy a few years ago.  It all started when a small Italian village boycotted a McDonalds Restaurant that tried to open in their village.  
Eating Slow Foods means eating foods grown and raised locally and not eating processed or pre-prepared foods, like instant potatoes, instant rice, canned soups, lunchmeat, ect. 
This concept of Slow Foods is big in the culinary world and is prevalent here where I live by how many more farmers markets there are now than just a few years ago.  People want to know more about where their food is coming from.  They want to meet the farmers.
Chef Harv, of Gourmet Central in Romney West Virginia, was a big supporter of buying local,  supporting local farmers and educating the children,  Being aware of where foods came from was Chef Harv’s “motes operandi.”  Anyway, Chef Harv was one local chef from my hometown who was leading the charge way before this concept became popular. 
I realize I am getting carried away and will definitely touch on this more in the future.
Essentially, I’m feeling the pressure to get back to the point.
When I was growing up in Romney West Virginia, my mother used to make chicken and dumplings.  We raised our own chickens so they grew slowly and were extremely flavorful.  They were free range.  Most chickens you buy today are grown so fast and pumped full so full of a water and saline solution that they don’t have nearly the flavor they used to.  I recommend looking for free range whenever possible or hormone and antibiotic free.  However, no matter which chicken you use, the pressure cooker will pull more flavor from your bird than any other method of cooking.
There are some really great pressure cooking cook books out there.  I have one called;  The Best Pressure Cooker Book Ever, by Pat Daily.  She has a great recipe for red beans and rice as well as Beef Brisket. 
Here is a good recipe I came up with for Chicken and Dumplings.   Definite Comfort Food. I don’t have my mom’s recipe in hand, but think this came pretty close to how she prepared it and my 12 year old loves it.

First of all, I found this awesome link on how to pressure cook a whole chicken.  It is how I do it and already written out.  So check it out. 
Three comments  regarding this site:  One, if you don’t have a rack for your pressure cooker, just cook the bird without it.  Setting the bird directly on the bottom of the pan.   You’re going to add the minimum amount of water your cooker allows.  The water will keep the bird from sticking. 
Two and three, before I brown my chicken, I add ½ of a medium sized brown onion. I cut it into big pieces and brown in the oil, ( I use avocado oil) higher flash point than olive oil.  You could use a good canola oil or a blend of canola and corn oil if desired. I am flavoring the oil before browning the bird.  Browning the onion for 2 to 3 minutes over a high flame, stirring to keep from burning.  Add chicken, follow directions as indicated on link.

What you will need for Chicken and Dumplings.

Once you have pressure cooked the chicken to the above specifications.  Remove chicken and allow to cool.  Strain remaining liquid in pressure cooker and return to cooker. 

Chicken and Dumplings

Ingredients for stew broth:
Two carrots, peeled and sliced.
One stock celery
4 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt, (or to your taste)
4 springs of parsley, chopped fine including stems,
1 teaspoon chopped dry onion.
1 teaspoon, tarragon, dill or fennel leaves (optional).
Strained broth from pressure cooked chicken (approx. 6 cups)

Place all of the ingredients, (except the cooked chicken) into the pressure cooker along with broth, cover with lid.  Place on pressure cooker setting and once the pressure indicator is up, turn down heat and cook for one minute.   Remove from heat and place in sink.  Pour cold water over the lid of the pressure cooker to immediately reduce pressure.  You will hear a hiss and the sound of the release.  Your pressure indicator will also drop back down.

Once pressure has completely released, remove lid.  Turn heat off and allow to sit while you clean the meat from the chicken.  Remove the skin, and bones.  The size of the pieces of chicken is up to you here.  Some folks like to keep them large, I’m in the middle.  No matter how you like it, once all cleaned return to broth.

The Dumplings:
(the way my mom used to make them.)

NOTE:  The dumplings are quick to make once the ingredients are all out and measured, however, it is important to note that the broth must be at a rolling boil as each dumpling is added, or otherwise, they can fall apart.   Once the ingredients for your dumplings are all measured out, turn the flame on under your broth with meat and veggies.  Cover with lid of cooker but do not cook under pressure. 

Ingredients for Dumplings
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon parsley (optional, but recommended)

NOTE:  There should be enough broth to just cover chicken before adding dumplings.  Add water if necessary.

Using a wire whisk, mix flour, baking powder and salt together.  Add the milk and parsley and stir using a wooden spoon until well blended.

Remove lid and set aside.  Place spoon into the hot boiling broth to coat before loading with dumpling batter, that way, batter won’t stick when pushing off spoon into hot boiling broth.  Dip spoon each time before measuring spoonfuls of batter into the hot broth.  Do this step as quickly as possible. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.   

You will notice when you remove the lid that the dumplings will shrink down very quickly, this is normal.   Stir and serve in shallow bowls.  Notice how the broth has thickened somewhat. 

True comfort food. 
Now before you go eat, be sure to rinse the lid of your cooker, so no starchy residue will clog the pressure valve for your next pressure cooker experience.

I recommend serving this dish with simple garden salad dressed with red-wine vinegar laced with oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper.

No Photos right now but will post when I get them.  Enjoy!

And remember you can always email me with any questions you may have.  Go to my website and click on (Contact Us) at the top of the page.

Now go have a glass of water ;)

-Chef Elizabeth Podsiadlo
The Opera Singing Chef
See locking mechnism in handle, also interlocking metal tabs under lid

I couldn't figure hot to put these photos in order  yet.  This is the end product.  Delicious and very satisfying.  Children especially love this dish with its generous dumplings.

Ingredients to be added to chicken broth

Ingredients for dumplings

Always dip spoon in hot broth before placing into dumpling batter.  That way it comes off the spoon very nicely and your finger gets super hot... ouch.. but worth it.


  1. Thank you this was very enlightening! My roommate has a pressure cooker but I was always too scared to use it. Also, I had no idea what to put in a pressure cooker. Now I will have to check it out. Chicken and dumplings look delicious!

  2. Awesome post on using a pressure cooker. Enjoyed reading it!