Pressure Cooking : The Cooker's Range

"I knew how long things would take to cook in the pressure cooker without anybody telling me," says Lorna Sass, who wrote "Cooking Under Pressure," the first major book on this style of cooking to come out in 10 years. "It was like I was channeling. There's no other way to explain it."

For those of us without a mystic spirit to guide us, preparing food in a pressure cooker can be a bit intimidating at first. The instruction booklet that comes with a pressure cooker usually includes a few recipes, but those are only intended to give you an idea of how to cook the basics. Then, once you feel comfortable, you can develop your own. You'll be amazed at how soon pressure cooker recipes will become standbys. The following are some of my new favorites.

CHILORIO

I ran across this recipe for chilorio, a spicy, cumin-seasoned chopped pork stew, in a cookbook published by Presto, the Eau Claire, Wis., company that manufactures pressure cookers. I couldn't resist trying it; it's rare to run across chilorio in California, much less Wisconsin. After an hour in the pressure cooker, the meat becomes flavorful and so tender it literally falls apart. The tasters in The Times Test Kitchen couldn't get enough.

Don't be concerned if the roast has to be wedged in the pot; it will shrink considerably during cooking.

1 (3- to 4-pound) pork shoulder or loin roast

Salt, pepper

1 medium onion, sliced

3 cups boiling water

3 medium jalapeno chiles, seeded and sliced

2 cloves garlic

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon fresh oregano

1/4 cup lemon juice

Dash cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 dozen corn or flour tortillas

Chopped lettuce, optional

Chopped tomatoes, optional

Place cooking rack in 6-quart pressure cooker. Trim as much surface fat from meat as possible. Sprinkle entire roast with salt and pepper to taste. Place meat and sliced onion on rack. Add boiling water. Lock lid in place, bring up to full pressure and cook 60 minutes. Allow pressure to come down naturally. Remove meat and rack.

Boil juices rapidly to reduce to about 1 1/2 cups. Add jalapenos, garlic, cumin, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Lock lid in place, bring to full pressure and cook 2 minutes. Reduce pressure quickly.

Puree liquid with hand blender or in standard blender or food processor. Add lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Remove meat from bones, discarding bones and fat. Coarsely chop meat with knife and then place meat in bowl. Add half of sauce to meat, mixing well. Add cayenne and cilantro to remaining sauce.

To make tacos, heat tortillas over griddle or low flame. Place about 2 tablespoons meat mixture in each tortilla. Top with remaining sauce, lettuce and tomatoes.

Makes 24 tacos.

Each taco contains about:

132 calories; 101 mg sodium; 28 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams protein; 1.14 grams fiber.

PASTA E FAGIOLI SOUP

This simple hearty soup is ready in an hour--even sooner, if you soak the beans overnight and precook the pasta so it can be added it at the end. The first time I made the soup, I used water and it tasted fine. The second time I used vegetable stock and it tasted superb. For a jazzy variation, add a half cup of pancetta with the garlic. The addition of a fragrant olive oil and a generous sprinkle of good Parmigiano-Reggiano at serving time also makes an amazing amount of difference in the flavor.

2 cups cannellini beans

Olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 teaspoon chopped freshrosemary

1 large onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, diced

2 carrots, chopped

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

6 1/2 cups boiling water or vegetable stock

1 cup small pasta, such as tiny elbow macaroni or broken spaghetti

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Pick over beans. Place in colander and rinse under cool running water. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in cooker. Cook garlic over medium heat 1 minute, stirring frequently. Do not let brown. Add rosemary and continue stirring 1 minute. Add onion, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute. Add celery, carrots, bay leaf, pepper flakes, reserved unsoaked beans and boiling water.

Lock lid in place. Bring to full pressure over high heat. Lower heat to maintain full pressure and cook 35 minutes. Allow pressure to come down naturally. Remove lid. If beans are still hard, return to full pressure another 5 minutes. Again, allow pressure to come down naturally.

Remove bay leaf and stir in pasta and salt. Bring to boil and immediately lower heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally until pasta is done, about 8 minutes. Thin with hot water if necessary.

Ladle soup into serving bowls. Sprinkle with cheese to taste. Drizzle with olive oil to taste.

Makes 9 cups, about 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

211 calories; 617 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 37 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 3.58 grams fiber.

POT ROAST AND POTATOES

Some say home-style dishes like pot roast are back in style. Some say they never went out. Whatever. The only way to ruin a pot roast is to let it dry out; fat chance, in the pressure cooker. I used a beef shoulder clod roast because my local market had the meat on special for $1.77 a pound, but any beef pot roast will do. Blending the carrots and onions with the stock makes a rich, thick gravy without the addition of any flour or fat.

1 (4-pound) boneless beef pot roast

Salt, pepper

2 tablespoons shortening

1 large onion, sliced

4 carrots, sliced

3 cloves garlic

1 cup red wine

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

4 medium potatoes, quartered

1/4 cup water, optional

2 sprigs parsley, optional

Season roast all over with salt and pepper to taste. Melt shortening in cooker over medium heat. Add roast and brown meat on all sides. Remove meat and add onion, carrots and garlic, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Blend in wine, tomato paste and thyme. Stir well to remove browned bits from bottom of cooker. Place trivet in cooker and set browned meat on top. Lock lid in place. Bring cooker to high pressure over high heat. Lower heat just enough to maintain pressure. Cook 35 minutes.

Reduce pressure quickly. Remove lid. Place potatoes around meat and add water, if necessary. Close cooker. Bring up to pressure and cook 5 minutes longer.

Reduce pressure quickly. Remove meat and potatoes to serving dish. Garnish with parsley. Using hand-held blender, blend onion and carrots into cooking liquid. Serve as sauce over meat and potatoes.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each of 6 servings contains about:

435 calories; 224 mg sodium; 136 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 50 grams protein; 0.78 gram fiber.

VEGETABLE STOCK

This recipe is just a guide for making vegetable broth. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand, but it's best to avoid cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnips and beets and other strong-tasting vegetables. One home cook makes stock when she wants to clean out her refrigerator because, she says, "It gets rid of all the crummy vegetables." Another saves all of her vegetables peelings, wilted lettuces and limp herbs for stock. Taste before you add salt to the stock when you use it in recipes--it's not always necessary.

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 leeks, trimmed and chopped coarse

2 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1 small onion, chopped

3 carrots, cut into thirds

4 stalks celery, cut into thirds

2 parsnips, quartered

2 cups summer squash, cut in pieces

2 potatoes, halved and then quartered

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 large tomato, quartered

2 bay leaves

3 to 4 sprigs parsley

6 whole peppercorns

2 1/2 quarts water

Salt, optional

Heat oil in 6-quart pressure cooker. Add leeks, garlic and onion. Saute until tender and onion begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add carrots, celery and parsnips. Saute 5 minutes more. Add squash, potatoes, mushrooms, tomato, bay leaves, parsley, peppercorns and water.

Lock lid in place and bring up to high pressure. Reduce heat to maintain high pressure and cook 12 minutes. Release pressure naturally, if time permits.

Strain stock through strainer, pressing vegetables against side to release as much flavor and liquid as possible. Discard solids. Season to taste with salt if needed. Or season to taste when serving.

* Makes about 10 cups.

* Each cup contains about:

* 99 calories; 36 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 1.94 grams fiber.

*

Variation: Rich Chicken Stock--Stock in half an hour? That's what prompted me to first try the pressure cooker. Coarsely chop and then saute in pot 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 stalks celery, 2 large carrots and 1 large onion. Add 3 pounds chicken, 1 bay leaf, some Italian parsley, 6 whole peppercorns and 8 cups water. Lock lid in place and bring up to high pressure. Reduce heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook 25 minutes. Release pressure. Ideally, stocks should be prepared day in advance so that fat that congeals on top can be skimmed off. Makes 8 cups stock.

KAHLUA FLAN

Desserts in a pressure cooker? The idea seemed a bit silly at first. But there are some desserts, such as steamed puddings and pudding cakes, fruit compotes and silky custards that turn out fantastic in a pressure cooker. I adapted this terrific recipe from the "Mark Peel & Nancy Silverton At Home" cookbook (Warner Books: $24.95). Peel and Silverton's method requires the flan to bake in a water bath for 45 to 55 minutes, but cooked under pressure, it has a creamier texture and is ready in only 12 to 15 minutes.

Sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 3/4 cups milk

1/4 cup half-and-half

1 tablespoon instant espresso powder

3 eggs

4 egg yolks

1/3 cup Kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur

1 cup boiling water

Stir together 3/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water in small heavy saucepan over high heat. Bring to boil. Cook, without stirring, until mixture turns mahogany brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Immediately pour into 1 1/4-quart souffle dish or casserole, turning to coat halfway up sides. Set aside to harden.

Warm milk and half-and-half in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add espresso powder and stir until dissolved.

Gently whisk eggs, egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar together in medium bowl while slowly adding warm milk mixture. Stir in Kahlua. Pour through strainer into caramel-lined dish.

Cover top with with 2 layers foil. Place cooking rack in 6-quart pressure cooker and add 1 cup boiling water. Place souffle dish on rack. Lock lid in place and bring up to high pressure. Cook 15 minutes at high pressure. Bring down pressure immediately. Knife inserted in center should come out clean, but center should still jiggle slightly. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until chilled.

To serve, use tip of knife to loosen sides of flan. Place rimmed plate on top of dish and invert.

* Makes 6 servings.

* Each serving contains about:

* 325 calories; 90 mg sodium; 308 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 39 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 0 fiber.

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