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GOURMET FOOD ONLINE
Take the Pressure Off
Cynthia Dix
     


Money tight, time poor? The modern pressure cooker makes its mark with money-saving and mouthwatering meals in triple quick time. Read on to find out how the pressure cooker is enjoying a revival in Australia.

If the terrifying shriek of your mum’s pressure cooker literally “doing its nut”, ever sent you scurrying under the table, you’d be forgiven for never trying pressure cooking for yourself. Tales of exploding dinners hitting the kitchen ceiling weren’t exaggerated by traumatised cooks who’d lived to tell the tale. Even the matriarch of Australian family cooking, Margaret Fulton, wasn’t immune from disaster. Her daughter, Suzanne Gibbs, recalls the terrible night on a family skiing holiday when the exploding pressure cooker sent them all screaming into the snowy darkness.
But all has been forgiven. The industrial beast of the baby boomers’ childhood kitchen has evolved into the sleekest, most sophisticated machine to get the best from humble ingredients, creating mouthwatering meals. 
After many years as a food writer and editor, Suzanne only used a modern pressure cooker for the first time a couple of years ago and declares, “it’s just changed our lives!” Pressure cookers have come a long way from her mum’s day when they would hiss and jiggle away on top of the stove, to produce many a corned beef dinner. 
The delightfully French, Chantal Roger from Subiaco’s Pressure Cooker Centre has no such bad memories. A passionate campaigner for the modern version she explains that, those old industrial bombs weren’t a patch on those embraced in her home country, where three times as many households would use a pressure cooker today as opposed to a microwave.
In her lovely lilting accent Chantal says, “one of the reasons it’s doing so well in Europe and not as well here and in England is because, unfortunately for the Australian and English people, the pressure cookers that were introduced to Australia in the 1950s were doing a good job with the food, but were very, very unsafe. Because the slightest mistake you made, you had what everybody calls, ‘the soup on the ceiling!’ Or if you didn’t lock your pressure cooker properly in the middle of the cooking process the lid would go flying through the kitchen. We can laugh about it today but in fact it was a very dangerous situation. 
“For the people, it was really a good way of getting edible food without using too many expensive ingredients and a lot of gas, very, very fast. It takes just one-third of the cooking time, so I think that’s why people keep using this method. But of course the children of that generation in England and Australia just had bad memories of the pressure cooker and I think a whole generation got lost until the new generation of pressure cooker was introduced into Australia and finally people started to think about them once again.
“They don’t look like dinosaurs anymore. They’re made of stainless steel, not aluminium, they don’t make a noise; they don’t have lots of steam escaping all over the place and it’s quite a modern kitchen tool these days. Plus we have become more and more health conscious, so instead of going to purchase takeaway, people started to look at the pressure cooker as a way of entertaining and cooking for themselves without spending the whole time in the kitchen.”
Both Chantal and Suzanne are ecstatic about the fact that the pressure cooker not only drastically reduces the time it takes to cook traditionally slow-cooked dishes like beef bourguignon or osso bucco but the intensity of the flavours from the combination of ingredients is maintained in the pot.
As Chantal explains, “the taste in your food is all inside your pressure cooker. When you cook in an open pot you’ve got all the steam coming out and all the soluble vitamins and minerals go straight out in the steam and as our chefs say, ‘if you smell it in the room, you don’t have it in the food.’ The major difference with the pressure cooker, especially nowadays, is when it’s cooking there is very little steam escaping. That’s why you don’t smell anything while it’s cooking.”
Another advantage of cooking in the pressure cooker is that food is cooked quickly as the heat is retained inside the pot. The pressure cooker is airtight and water tight which allows the food inside the container to be heated well above boiling point.
But she counsels, you get out what you put in. “It’s not that you throw everything in together and expect a wonderful dish at the end when you open the pressure cooker. The taste comes from the preparation. Firstly you must brown your meat and onions, just as you would normally do. Then because the meat is sealed, it won’t become tough when it is brought to the boil. The tenderness comes because cooking in the pressure cooker uses steam at a high temperature and pressure, which in turn, breaks the molecule of the meat resulting in it being wonderfully tender. Whereas when you’re cooking (in an ordinary pot) on top of the stove, it’s the length of cooking that makes the meat tender. So the process is totally different.”
But Chantal’s praises aren’t only about braises. “You just have to taste vegetables cooked in a pressure cooker! People say to me, ‘oh I’m not going to be bothered using my pressure cooker for vegetables. But you know, once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back. The taste is incredible!”
Since her pressure cooker conversion Suzanne says, “I wonder how I could not have known how great these things were. It brings back into the fold the wonderful dishes that our grandmothers used to make. Slow cooked wonderful casseroles, that seem to have been largely forgotten are brought back into our lives so easily and so simply.
“It was my colleague from France telling me, ‘oh most French housewives have a pressure cooker.’ So I thought I’d better give it a go. In Europe pressure cookers are really quite revered and appreciated as one of the kitchen basics. I’ve learned that I don’t have to add the amount of liquid that I thought was required. Certainly you’ve got to have moisture to create the steam and the pressure, you can’t dry cook something, but it doesn’t need nearly as much liquid as you would think. For me it’s often just a little splash of wine, a few tomatoes, some verjuice or a tiny bit of stock so you don’t have to have everything tasting boiled or even steamed.”
Following in her famous mother’s footsteps, Suzanne has created The Pressure Cooker Recipe Book, which she admits could well have been called ‘slow food fast.’ Family favourites like ragu all bolognese sauces which are cooked in the traditional way might normally take three hours but are now reduced to just 25 minutes. Following a master class where the wonderful Antonio Carluccio debunked the myth that risotto had to be endlessly stirred, Suzanne was inspired to adapt it for the pressure cooker, and she shows how to create a fabulous creamy concoction in less than ten minutes.
“There’s a fabulous photo in my book of pressure cooked potatoes” she trills.  “I just don’t cook potatoes any other way now.  Its delicious, you know browning some potatoes lightly in some oil and adding some yummy things say like some tomatoes, some garlic and a few herbs, clapping the lid on, bringing it up to pressure and those potatoes are just to die for.”
Suzanne also said that it’s things like a paella or Spanish chicken with rice that are fantastic when cooked in the pressure cooker. “All you need to do is brown your chicken pieces, add some onions and bits and bobs stir in the rice, stock and tomatoes. Put the lid on and six minutes later you’ve got a beautiful chicken and rice dish. I just think, ‘how fabulous’.”
Following in the footsteps of her legendary mother Margaret Fulton, whose books gave many of us our first lessons in the kitchen, Suzanne Gibbs brings back the pressure cooker to Australian kitchens.
For those of us who might have been turned off forever by the old rattlers in our mothers’ kitchens, Suzanne explains the principles of the much safer, far more stylish new generation models, how they work, how to use them, what cooks best, what might go wrong and how to avoid the pitfalls.
Her book includes 80 recipes (most include beautiful images) for old favourites like ragu bolognese, osso bucco and ox tail, all made quickly and easily in a third of the time you’d expect. Also included with these more traditional recipes, are nibbles and light meals, soups, stocks, vegetables, one pot dinners and even desserts including lemon cheesecake and creamy rice pudding. The brilliance of the time saving pressure cooker comes into it’s own with special dishes like ruby red quinces, which would normally take several hours to cook but which are now ready in just one hour!  Of course the pressure cooker is perfect for cooking cheaper cuts like chuck steak, lamb shanks and shoulder, making them tantalisingly tender. It’s a case of welcome back, all is forgiven.

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The Pressure Cooker Recipe Book
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added: 30 June 2009
 
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