America’s Test Kitchen sent me the FAGOR Duo Stainless Steel 8-Quart Pressure Cooker
to experiment with in preparation for their forthcoming book, “Pressure Cooker Perfection”
(available to pre-order now, released in March). What you are about to read is my experience with the pressure cooker using one of the recipes from the new book. I was not harmed, nor was anyone else, well, except for the pork used in the recipe. But I assure you it was well loved.
When my boys have to venture somewhere a bit scary; whether it’s the garage, upstairs when the lights are off or a new friend’s house, they like to travel as the pair. Even at a young age they know that there is safety in numbers, so I’m taking their cue and asking you to be with me as I do something that I find a bit scary – use a pressure cooker.
At this point I know nothing of pressure cooking except that it uses pressure to cook which somehow makes the process faster and that I’ve seen a couple of them bubble, spurt and explode. It may have been on cartoons where I saw this but it still has made me feel anxious about the idea. But you’re here and I’m under the highly respectable guidance of the fine people at America’s Test Kitchen. So, I’m feeling okay and yet I have the odd desire to don some goggles and a helmet.
It’s unlike me to start with reading through directions in their entirety but in this case I think it best. Immediately there’s a bit of relief as I read, “Why you should own a pressure cooker” from the forthcoming book by America’s Test Kitchen. The number two reason says,
“They’re safe: You’ve heard the old stories about exploding pressure cookers and meals that ended up on the ceiling instead of the dinner plates. But that was yesterday. If too much pressure builds up in one of today’s pressure cookers, there are multiple safety features that allow that excess pressure to escape safely – and without creating a mess.”
I already feel better. A few of the other reasons; it’s fast, more concentrated flavors and it is economical as it requires less energy and you can really utilize the tough cuts of meat and dried beans which are often quite a bit cheaper.
All right, I’m cooking now. I read MOST of the instructions and I think it’s safe to proceed. I just put the lid on and have not taken my eyes off of it as I’m waiting for the pressure valve to lift its head to tell me that high pressure has been reach. At that point I reduce the heat and let it cook for 30 minutes. Wait a minute. Have I even told you what you are cooking with me? We are making a French Pork Stew using 3 pounds of pork butt and dried beans (soaked overnight) and they tell me it will be done in 45 minutes. Can you read my skepticism?
Did you hear that? Is it suppose to hiss like that? “Kids, get OUT of the kitchen!”
Little drops of condensation fall from the black handle. Everything this pot does; steam escaping from the sides or the loud hissing sound that continues – I question.
Ten minutes of cooking time left.
If at the end of all of this we have a stew that is flavorful with tender chunks of pork, soft and fragrant beans then I feel I’ve unleashed a weeknight hero. Suddenly Monday through Friday nights are filled with possibility. A large roast on Tuesday? Tender beets and potatoes on Thursday cooked in under 20 minutes? Friday night Risotto without all the stirring? If this is the case then all my nervousness, anxiety over steam and hissing would be worth it for meals that taste as if I’ve actually planned dinner well in advance.
There’s a lot of pressure all around. Except for Ivy. She’s calmly sitting next to me consulting with Elmo who also doesn’t seemed to be phased by the steam engine-like sound coming from the kitchen.
Three minutes left.
The pressure is off! Well, almost. I just turned off the heat and for the next 15 minutes the pressure that has built up is slowly being released naturally.
My house smells better than expensive French perfume. It’s meaty and bright with white wine. Fragrant wafts of lavender and rosemary escaped through some of the steam and have me reaching for a glass of wine. It’s not too early, right?
Fifteen minutes have now passed and the pressure valve still shows high pressure so with shaky hand I slide the black knob on top to the picture of a steam cloud. An appropriate image as once the pressure has been released steam pours out as if it were an active volcano. It shoots safely behind the pot.
The volcano has stopped. The valve is now lowered telling me that the pressure is off. Along with the steam more fragrance fills the air and my stomach moans in anticipation. For a mere 45 minutes I eagerly waited to taste and now is when I wish you REALLY were here with me because, you guys, it’s amazing. Even better than I had hoped. It doesn’t just taste as if its been on the stove for hours, it tastes as it it was on the stove for hours the day before because we all know stews are better the day after. The carrots taste sweeter, the meat is incredibly tender and the broth is thick and rich. It’s a quick weeknight meal that tastes good enough for Sunday dinner.
And just like that I’m a believer. Turns out all the hissing and steam – perfectly normal. Oh pressure cooker, I’m really sorry I ever doubted you and spent all those wasted years being afraid of you. I blame cartoons.
Rustic French Pork and White Bean Stew
This recipe comes right from the new book. Being a bit nervous about the whole thing I stuck to the recipe pretty much exactly except for the addition of some Juniper berries and I added 2 teaspoons of herbes de provence rather than the 1 1/2 teaspoons they suggest.
ABOUT 1 1/2 HOURS (plus bean soaking time)
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
This French-inspired dish, with chunks of pork, creamy white beans, fennel, and carrots, tastes like it simmered all day, yet the pressure cooker makes it doable on a weeknight—even with dried beans in the mix.To keep the cooking time down, we browned only half the meat and still built enough flavorful fond on the bottom of the pot to season the stew.We continued to build a base with sautéed onion, garlic, and herbes de Provence before deglaz- ing the pot with white wine.To ensure each component cooked through evenly, we cut the carrots and fennel into large 1-inch pieces and salt-soaked the beans. Once everything was tender, parsley and lemon juice went in to brighten the flavors. Pork butt roast is often labeled Boston butt in the supermarket.
3 pounds boneless pork butt roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons Herbes de Provence
1 pound carrots, cut in 1” chunks
⅓ cup flour
1 cup white wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
8 ounces (11⁄4 cups) dried cannellini beans, picked over, rinsed, and salt-soaked (soaked overnight in salted water)
2 bay leaves
1⁄4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus extra as needed
1. BUILD FLAVOR: Pat pork dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in pressure-cooker pot over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of meat on all sides, about 8 minutes; transfer to bowl.
2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty pot over medium heat until shimmering.Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in gar- lic and herbes de Provence and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute.Whisk in wine, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps, and cook until slightly reduced, about 1 minute. Stir in broth, carrots, fennel, soaked beans, bay leaves, browned pork with any accumulated juices, and remaining pork.
3. HIGH PRESSURE FOR 30 MINUTES:
Lock pressure-cooker lid in place and bring to high pressure over medium-high heat.As soon as pot reaches high pressure, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain high pressure.
4. NATURALLY RELEASE PRESSURE:
Remove pot from heat and allow pressure to release naturally for 15 minutes. Quick release any remaining pressure, then carefully remove lid, allowing steam to escape away from you.
5. BEFORE SERVING: Remove bay leaves. Using large spoon, skim excess fat from surface of stew. Stir in parsley and lemon juice and season with salt, pepper, and extra lemon juice to taste. Serve.
Can I substitute canned beans for the dried?
Can I use chicken instead of pork?
Do I need to alter the recipe for a 6-quart electric pressure cooker?
Yes, although the final stew will not be as thick since the dried beans soak up some of the liquid, and we also found the flavor wasn’t as developed. Before adding the parsley and lemon juice in step 5, stir 2 (15-ounce) cans of rinsed cannellini beans into the stew and simmer until the beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.
Boneless chicken thighs would work fine, although we found they release more juices than the pork and thus create a looser stew. Substitute an equal amount of boneless thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces, for the pork butt and reduce the pressurized cooking time to 20 minutes.
Yes, turn the cooker off immediately after the pressurized cooking time and let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes; do not let the cooker switch to the warm setting.