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New models take the pressure out of pressure cooking

| Sunday, June 17, 2001

The Book
  • 'The Best Pressure Cooker Recipes.'

  • By Cinda Chavich.

  • Robert Rose Inc., $18.95.
  • When I was little, my mother banished me from the kitchen when she was using a pressure cooker for fear of a minor food explosion.

    That was 30 years ago. Today, pressure cookers are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, thanks to safer and more reliable models that take the fear out of cooking under pressure.

    In her new book, 'The Best Pressure Cooker Recipes,' author Cinda Chavich allays fears and raves about the convenience of pressure cooking, which cooks most foods in one-third the time of conventional boiling or braising.

    'Gone is the hissing, jiggly pressure regulator that always seemed unreliable at best,' Chavich says. 'In its place, most modern machines have a new pressure regulator and quick-release valve which allows you to release the steam from the pot without hauling the hot and heavy monster over to the cold water tap to cool it down.'

    The basic principles are still the same. Pressure builds inside the sealed pot when it is heated, causing the food inside to be cooked at about 240 degrees - about 38 degrees hotter than the normal boiling point, Chavich says.

    Her 192-page paperback includes eight pages of color photographs, tips for buying and using a pressure cooker, a guide for adapting favorite recipes and a table of cooking times. More than 125 recipes showcase the versatility of pressure cooking, divided among appetizers; soups; poultry; meat; fish and seafood; vegetarian and salads; beans and grains; desserts; and stocks, sauces and condiments. The recipes are brief and easy to understand, with helpful hints for cooking and serving on each page.

    Here are two recipes from Chavich's book:


    Whole 'Roasted' Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Herbs

    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
    • 1 chicken (about 3 pounds)
    • Juice of 1 lemon
    • Zest of 1 lemon, minced
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 cups chicken stock
    • 2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
    • Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
    In a small bowl, combine garlic, thyme and rosemary; rub half of the mixture inside chicken. Rub the inside with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest.

    In a pressure cooker, heat oil over high heat. Add chicken and brown on all sides. Pour in stock and remaining lemon juice. Sprinkle with remaining garlic mixture.

    Lock the lid in place and bring cooker up to full pressure over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, just to maintain even pressure, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and release pressure quickly. Chicken should be tender, with an internal temperature of 170 degrees. If not, return cooker to full pressure and cook for 5 minutes or longer, depending on doneness. Remove from heat and release pressure quickly.

    Transfer chicken to a carving board and tent with foil to keep warm. (Remove skin if desired, or crisp skin by putting the chicken into a 450-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.) Pour cooking juices into a glass measuring cup; skim off any fat. Return liquid to cooker and bring to a boil. Whisk in cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes or until gravy is thickened. Season with pepper and stir in remaining 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Carve chicken from the bone and serve with gravy.

    Makes 4 servings.


    Wild Rice Casserole with Mixed Mushrooms and Chestnuts
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 onion, finely chopped
    • 1 cup mixed mushrooms (such as portobello, oyster, shiitake and white), sliced
    • 1 cup wild rice
    • 1 cup chestnuts, cooked and crumbled, or ½ cup pecans, toasted
    • 2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 2 cups chicken stock
    • Salt to taste
    • Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
    In a pressure cooker, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and mushrooms; saute until they start to brown. Stir in wild rice, chestnuts, thyme and stock. Bring to a boil.

    Lock the lid in place and bring cooker up to full pressure over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, just to maintain even pressure, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow pressure to drop naturally. The rice should be tender, with many of the grains broken and curled. If not, return to full pressure and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Remove from heat and allow pressure to drop naturally.

    Drain off any excess liquid. Discard thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper.

    Makes 4 servings.


    Successful Pressure Cooking
    Follow these steps from Cinda Chavich to cook perfectly under pressure:

  • Don't underfill or overfill the pressure cooker. Consult the manufacturer's instructions for specific requirements.

  • Lock the lid before putting the unit over heat.

  • Get the pressure cooker up to full pressure as quickly as possible by putting it over high heat.

  • Once the cooker is up to full pressure, reduce heat to low or medium-low to maintain even pressure during cooking

  • Begin timing when the unit is up to pressure, and use an accurate timer to make sure that you release the pressure as soon as the time is up.

  • When recipe instructions call for releasing the pressure naturally, remove the pressure cooker from the heat and wait for the pressure indicator to drop.

  • If the recipe calls for releasing the pressure quickly, release the pressure valve by pressing the button or flipping the lever. If the cooker doesn't have a quick-release valve, you will have to take it to the sink and run cold water over the lid, being careful not to run water into the steam valve. (Some models do not have a locking mechanism to prevent opening the unit while there is still pressure inside. If the lid is removed before all of the pressure has dissipated, the food inside can erupt and burn you.)


    More Information
    For more recipes, cooking tips and buying information, visit the Web sites of these pressure cooker manufacturers:

    Lagostina: www.lagostina.com .
    Mirro Company: www.mirro.com .
    National Presto Industries: www.gopresto.com .
    T-Fal: www.t-falusa.com .

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