I recently became the proud owner of a pressure cooker. Folks, this is not your mother's, or grandmother's, pressure cooker. It doesn't have that weight on the top that "swishes" back and forth when the pressure is created. I have cooked with one of those, but they make me pretty nervous. I always had visions of that weight falling off the top and the whole pot exploding. That's what my mom told me would happen, and I had no reason not to believe her.
The other thing I didn't like about that pressure cooker was that you had to wait until the pressure dropped on its own before you could open the pot. Sure, you could set the pot in cool water to accelerate the process, but that darn weight on top could fall off ... and the pot could explode.
The older pressure cookers always seemed to overcook whatever you had in it, probably because you had to wait to open the cooker. I am sure the slow cooker was invented because of the challenges of the old pressure cookers. But again, slow-cooked food always tastes overcooked to me as well.
Now, my new pressure cooker does not have that weight on top. It has a spring that creates the pressure. And, I can release the pressure by pushing the spring down and releasing the steam, carefully, of course. This cooker came with a recipe book for everything from mashed potatoes to beef stew my favorite.
My new favorite recipe is called Classic Beef Stew and takes 15 minutes to prep but only 16 minutes to cook. I found it in the cookbook "Pressure Perfect" by Lorna Sass. It was written with the Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker in mind. That is the manufacturer of the pressure cooker I use.
Because the pressure cooker can make the toughest piece of beef fall apart with a fork, you can use a cheap roast. I use a 2.5- to 3-pound chuck roast cut into 1-inch pieces.
Classic Beef Stew
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onions
3/4 cup finely diced celery
3/4 cup finely diced carrot
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
2 large bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if broth is salt)
3 pounds of beef chuck, cut into 1 or 1 1/2 inch chunks
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried
Freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons balsamic or other red wine vinegar (optional)
2 tablespoons cornstarch (optional)
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Heat the oil in a 4-quart or larger cooker. Stir in the onions, celery and carrot. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and tomato paste and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the broth, bay leaves and salt. Add the beef.
Lock the lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure and cook for 16 minutes. Turn off the heat. Allow the pressure to come down naturally, about 10 minutes. Remove the lid, tilting away from you to allow steam to escape.
Skim off any fat that rises to the surface or degrease the broth in a fat separator. Discard the bay leaves. Stir in the thyme and the salt and pepper to taste. Add a little vinegar to intensify the flavors.
If you wish to thicken the stew, blend the cornstarch into 2 tablespoons of water. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower the heat, until the stew reaches the desired consistency, usually 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the peas. Let the stew rest for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.
l Cook-along carrots: Wrap 3 large, peeled carrots in a foil packet and add along with the beef. After cooking cut into chunks and stir into the stew.
l Cook-along potatoes: Set 4 to 6 medium potatoes, scrubbed or peeled, on top of stew. After cooking, serve the potatoes either along side the stew or cube and stir in. (Potatoes will absorb much of the liquid and thicken the stew, eliminating the need for cornstarch.)
l Instead of red wine, use 1/4 cup of balsamic or red wine vinegar.
l Season the stew with 1 to 2 teaspoons horseradish instead of red wine vinegar.
l After degreasing broth, stir in 8 ounces frozen small whole onions or 12 ounces of frozen cut string beans. Simmer until they are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
After I saute my onions, celery and carrots in olive oil, I add a good quality red wine vinegar or a nice shiraz. Then I add the tomato paste and reduce the liquid by half. Add the beef and the beef broth, and you are ready to start cooking.
But wait, what about the potatoes and big chunks of carrot? You have to consider how fast your ingredients will cook. Carrots and potatoes cook faster than the beef. I peel about six medium potatoes, and put them on top of the beef. Don't cut the potatoes - add them whole. The bigger pieces take longer to cook, and they will absorb some of the broth.
If you like a lot of broth, add a whole 14-ounce can of beef broth. You might have to add some thickening later, but I really like to soak up the juice with crusty Italian bread. The more broth the better.
I also like big chunks of carrots. Again, they cook faster than the beef, and faster than the potatoes, so peel the carrots and wrap them in aluminum foil. Put the foil wrapped carrots on top of the potatoes.
Now seal the lid shut and turn on the heat. My lid has a spring loaded stem that pops out and has two red lines around it. The stem pops out the top of the lid. When the second red line is exposed, I turn the heat down. The cooker will still hiss, when the hissing slows down and the second red line is almost hidden, I set my timer for 16 minutes.
Now, here is the part I like. After you turn off the heat and remove the cooker from the burner, you can release the pressure by pushing the stem on the lid down. I use a big spoon to push the spring down, one with a long handle. The steam will shoot out the top of the lid, so use a cooking mitt to hold the spoon. Once the steam quits shooting out of the lid, gently release the lid. There will be that last cloud of steam that will come out from under the lid. Direct it away from you. It is hot, and it will steam up your glasses. Releasing the steam takes about 1 or 2 minutes. Your stew will still be bubbling, the potatoes and carrots will be cooked perfectly, and those chunks of chuck roast will fall apart with a fork.
I like to serve my stew with some crusty Italian bread and a glass of cold milk.