Under Pressure

What is one quality most home cooks require in a recipe? Some say taste, some say ease, but by far the quality most would agree is necessary has to be its convenience! No one wants to come home after a long day at work and spend hours in the kitchen producing a delicious meal. As lovely as that may be on the weekend, such intensive cooking is just not practical for every day. At Cultivate Home, we relish every type of cooking- and eating- but something we strive for in selecting our products is their everyday practicality. Which brings us to today's topic of conversation: Pressure Cookers!

You may recall your mother or grandmother lugging out one of those old-style pressure cookers long ago, always with the stern warning not to touch any of the various parts and pieces of it lest it explode mercilessly all over the kitchen. It is for this reason that pressure cookers largely fell out of favor. Today's pressure cookers are designed with safety and ease of use in mind, and you won't have to worry about any incendiary incidents occurring.

Pressure cookers are the new time-saving kitchen device that bring weekend classics back to the weekday table. Fork-tender pot roasts in under an hour, scrumptious artichokes in fifteen minutes, even risotto can be done in under twenty minutes. Pressure cookers are also great for making homemade stocks and dried beans that would otherwise need hours of simmering, as well as pasta sauces, soups, and stews that will only take a fraction of the time to prepare. Would you ever have thought it possible?
Pressure cookers are designed to hold in heat and steam, increasing the internal pressure of the pot to above the normal atmospheric pressure of the room, which a scientist would tell you allows the boiling point of water to raise far above the normal 212 degrees Fahrenheit. This added pressure and higher temperature allows food to cook much, much faster than it otherwise would. Because pressure cookers maintain their pressure for a long time once attained, they help to save energy by allowing you to turn down the heat to a low level after reaching the proper pressure. Rather than using high heat to boil a pot of water for potatoes or artichokes, or leaving the oven on all day for roasts, you can use a small amount of high heat coupled with medium-low for a short amount of time to create the same results. Of course pressure cookers create a moist internal environment, so this cooking style won't work well if it's a crispy crust you're looking for.

Some foods that do wonderfully in a pressure cooker are dried beans, which after soaking can take between five and fifteen minutes to cook, braised meat dishes like pot roast or osso bucco, and hearty root vegetables which cook under pressure in less time than it would take to boil a pot of water or preheat the oven.

In picking the right pressure cooker for your needs, it's important to consider two things: what you will use it for and how often you will use it. Generally, an 8-quart pressure cooker will work perfectly for families of 4 or more, though 6-quart pressure cookers are widely available and are good for solo cooks and couples. A wide, thick bottom on the pot will allow more surface area for browning prior to adding pressure, and it will also allow for more heat retention. Look for a pressure cooker with a lid that locks easily into place, has an easy to read pressure gauge with multiple pressure settings, and reaches a maximum psi of 15. Pressure cookers come in both standard stove-top versions as well as electric versions that often have settings for other cooking methods (such as making rice or yogurt). The only thing to keep in mind is that it is impossible to brown foods in an electric cooker, as the temperature just doesn't get hot enough. If you want to impart good flavor through browning (yay Maillard reactions!) and create a nice fond for a sauce, consider going with a traditional stove-top version.

We carry both traditional and electric pressure cookers in a variety of sizes in our store, all hand selected to suit your needs. Come pick one up today and test out this fantastic recipe, perhaps using some of the delicious Rancho Gordo heirloom beans we have in store as well!

Mexican Beans Under Pressure

  • 1 lb medium sized beans, such as pinto, black, or cranberry beans, picked over and soaked for at least 8hrs (I like to set mine to soak in the morning so that they're done by dinner time)
  • 1 jalapeno sliced lengthwise
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a large pinch of epazote, optional
  • Salt and Pepper

Rinse the soaked beans under fresh water, and place in the pot of the pressure cooker. Cover with enough water to cover the beans by 2-3 inches. add the jalapeno, garlic cloves, bay leaf, and epazote. Place the lid on the pressure cooker and lock it in place. Place over high heat until your pressure cooker indicates high pressure has been reached (15psi). Turn the heat to medium low or move the pot to a preheated burner on medium-low. Cook for 10min. Move the pot off of the heat and allow the pressure to come down naturally (this is called the natural release method). Once the pressure has returned to normal, remove the lid carefully with the lid tilted away from you (there will still be plenty of steam in the pot, so unless you need a facial, let it go away from your face). Stir the beans, removing the jalapeno and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Beans can be drained, mashed, and re-fried if desired. These beans pair wonderfully with grilled meats or vegetables, mashed as a dip, or served alone with hearty cornbread and a tossed salad for a complete meal.