Next to farm fresh brown eggs, nothing conjures up an image of the farmhouse kitchen quite like the site of a pressure cooker. It’s Rockwellian in that it brings to mind iconic images of the aproned farmer’s wife peeling home grown carrots at the counter while on the stove behind her sits a huge pot-like contraption whistling and blowing steam through a small whole in its lid.
The image leaves you with a feeling of wholesomeness much like homemade whole wheat bread. It’s as if the pressure cooker does something magical that only the farmer’s wife knows. After all, for some reason, we always equate wholesome home cooking with the country kitchen.
But did you know chefs everywhere are using them in their own commercial kitchens? Pressure cookers are being used for molecular gastronomy to make high end expensive restaurant food and in common everyday restaurant kitchens to make delicious slow cooked comfort food quickly. Professional chefs are using pressure canners not only because they are quick or because they cook food differently but because, most importantly, they intensify and concentrate flavors. Great chefs would not use a pressure cooker, they wouldn’t waste their time, if they didn’t feel like the end product is better then if they simply used their traditional pots and pans.
Even so, they are professionals, for the rest of us just looking at a pressure cooker can feel overwhelming but once you understand how simple they are to use, how safe with which they are to cook, any sense of foreboding will render itself away into the smell of the delicious perfectly cooked pot roast you just prepared and in two thirds of the time it would have taken to cook it in a conventional manner.
While for some the pressure canner is their best friend for others it is their biggest foe, a Moby Dick of sorts. With all the folklore of exploding pots that surrounds this piece of kitchen equipment it is no wonder people feel cautious and would want to keep them at arms distance but modern pressure cookers are safe to use.
Safety in this case is as simple as a cup full of common sense. Don’t leave your pressure cooker unattended. That doesn’t mean I need to stand at stove’s edge watching the timer tick down as if I am watching paint dry but rather that I am aware of what is happening on the stove. This, in and of itself, is something I do anyway when I am in the kitchen. Things like checking boiling pots become second nature while I am completing other tasks that need doing and it is the same with a pressure cooker. As I have cooked with them I have become attuned to the nature of how they work which means I know what to look for and expect.
There is a regimen I use, a simple checklist of which I go through before I ever put my cooker onto the heat, it is part of my misé en place. I check the rubber seal to make sure it is in good order. It should be soft and pliable, there should be no cracks or holes. After checking the seal I move onto the valves. I make sure there are no obvious obstructions that would cause them to fail. After that, I am done with my checklist. It is that simple and I then go ahead and use it like any other pot right up until I put the lid on.
I never put the lid on until the liquid in the pot is at a full boil. Then I pop it on, turn it, and lock it into place. Now, and this is probably the most important thing you can do, is wait by the stove until your valves and pressure gauges begin to work. If they don’t do what the manufacturers say they are supposed to do then you need to release any pressure, take the lid off and try it again. If, on the second attempt, pressure doesn’t build quickly or the pot doesn’t whistle you need to remove the lid and check for some sort of obstruction. Your valves and seal need to be in working order if you are going to use the cooker safely. If there is a problem do not proceed. Stop, trouble shoot, and once you have the cooker in working order it is then safe to use cooker.
That said, in all the years I have used my canner or cooker I have never had any of the aforementioned issues occur. That doesn’t mean I won’t, it doesn’t mean I don’t run through my check list, it just means I believe they are perfectly safe to use as long as you use common sense and follow the manufactures guidelines.
Realize too, like riding a bike, or playing a musical instrument the more you practice, the more knowledgeable you become about the equipment. As you master the pressure cooker the more enjoyable it becomes to use and resulting food tastes better and better and before you realize it, you dinners become utterly delicious.
- For the Chicken
1 whole fryer chicken, about 3 pounds, thawed
1 leek, white part only, sliced into half moons
4 carrots, peeled trimmed and cut into 1 inch diagonals
3 stalks celery, trimmed and cut into 1 inch long pieces
1 yellow onion, peeled, trimmed and cut into a large dice
1 bay leaf
5 cups chicken stock
For the Dumplings
3/4 cup flour or all purpose gluten free flour
3/4 cup corn flour, not corn meal
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons lard or shortening
3/4 cup milk
fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tablespoons minced parsley
1. Place the chicken into a 5 quart or larger pressure cooker.
2. Add the leek, carrots, onion and celery to the pot along with the bay leaves and water or stock. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper.
3. Place the pot over high heat. As soon as it comes to a boil put the lid on and lock it into place. Stay close by until it comes to pressure. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting that still allows for the cooker pop-up valve to stay at 15 psi. Cook the chicken at 5 minutes per pound or in the case of a 3 pound chicken cook it for 15 minutes.
4. At the end of 15 minutes turn off the heat and let the pressure cooker release the pressure naturally.
5. While you are waiting make the dumplings. Combine the flours, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the shortening and using a large wooden spoon, or your hands, combine the shortening with the flour much like you would when making biscuits. The flour should look like very course crumbly cornmeal.
6. Add the eggs, milk, parsley and pepper. Stir the dumplings until the flours are all combined. It will seem loose but elastic. Set the dumplings aside.
7. Once the pressure is released take the lid off gently remove the chicken with a pair of tongs being careful to drain all the broth in the cavity. Place the chicken onto a sheet tray and let it cool.
8. Peel away and discard the skin of the chicken. Pull off the chicken meat and set it to the side of the sheet tray. Once you have all the meat off the bone scoop it up and put it back into the pot.
9. Carry the mixing bowl with the dumpling dough over to the stove. Bring the broth in the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
10. Using a large spoon, or even better a large scoop with a release trigger, scoop a dumpling out, lower it down to broth level and gentle drop it into the liquid. Place the dumplings next to each other and not on top of each other. Repeat this process until all the dough is used.
11. Turn up the heat. When you see the first few signs of boiling, which generally speaking happens in the little spaces between the dumplings, turn the heat down to the lowest temperature you can and place the lid onto the pot. Do not lock the pressure cooker lid down. Simmer the dumplings for 15 minutes without removing the lid.
12. Remove the lid and push on a dumpling. Is the top firm or squishy? If it is squishy, put the lid back on and cook the dumplings another 5 minutes.
13. Remove the lid, dip out the dumplings into bowls, ladle in the chicken, vegetables and broth and serve.