Tips and tricks to get the best out of your pressure cooker

Chicken with lettuce, leeks and peas. Picture: Andrew Hayes-Watkins
Chicken with lettuce, leeks and peas. Picture: Andrew Hayes-Watkins

Pressure cookers have been around for a long time. It is more than 340 years since Denis Papin first presented his "steam digester", an ingenious invention that created a pressurised build up of steam inside a weighted, sealed vessel.

There have been many manifestations since and they have fallen in and out of fashion, no more so than in the past 70-80 years. When I first started writing about them more than a decade ago, persuading people away from outdated negative preconceptions was often difficult but in the interim years my job has become easier. This is in part due to familiarity - some of our most prominent chefs have talked about them being a "secret weapon" in their professional kitchens, they have started to appear regularly on TV shows such as MasterChef and certain brands of electric pressure cookers have become so popular they have achieved cult status.

For me, the joy of pressure cooking is the fact that I am able to cook properly from scratch, but in a fast, convenient and sustainable way. This feels increasingly important when addressing some of the challenges of modern living we all face and cooking can be just one more thing we have to do on a difficult day when we are time-pressed, stressed and over-tired.

Most of us are worried about climate change and are trying to navigate our way through the endless debates on how to be sustainable, and food is often at the centre of these debates.

We know that a diet high in ultra-processed foods is really bad for us and that we should be cooking much more than many of us do.

I believe that being a modern cook paradoxically involves winding the clock back to a time before eating ultra-processed food was the norm and cooking properly again - but with the added benefit of a much wider range of ingredients to work with and more mod cons to make us more efficient.

We need to be mindful of what we cook but also how we cook it. I would struggle to do this to the extent I do without the help of a pressure cooker.

A pressure cooker helps you in the kitchen by saving you time (cutting off around 70 per cent of the cooking time), making certain processes easier, reducing your fuel bill by a quite staggering amount, as well as being much greener as your consumption will be so much lower.

It will also reduce your water consumption considerably. In short, it is a very sustainable option in the kitchen.

This is in addition to the benefits in terms of flavour and nutrition. Meat will be tender, flavours will intensify, vegetables will keep their colour and vitality as well as maintaining a higher nutritional value than their conventionally cooked counterparts. There is no compromise on flavour as the flavour will be better.

I hope you will be inspired by the many ways in which you can use your pressure cooker and that the recipes will give you the confidence to use it to its full potential.

I am constantly learning, considering every dish I might cook conventionally with the question, "Will this work in the pressure cooker?" If you have this mindset - if you approach using your pressure cooker as not just a souped-up version of a saucepan or stockpot, but something that can also sauté, braise and even bake and roast - you will get so much more out of it.

Catherine Phipps' book is Modern Pressure Cooking.

Catherine Phipps' book is Modern Pressure Cooking.

How do pressure cookers work?

A pressure cooker is simply a saucepan with a specially adapted lid. This lid has a rubber gasket (a circular seal that fits snugly within the inner rim of the pressure cooker) and which expands as the pressure cooker heats up and creates a tight seal. The lid is also weighted. The combination of the seal and the weight ensures that the steam builds up inside the pressure cooker, which in turn increases the heat beyond boiling point up to around 119-121C. This means on average you can reduce cooking time by around 70 per cent.

  • This is an edited extract from Modern Pressure Cooking: The comprehensive guide to stovetop and electric cookers, with over 200 tecipes by Catherine Phipps. Quadrille, $50.

Chicken with lettuce, leeks and peas

A few years ago I wrote a book devoted to chicken and a version of this was one of the most popular recipes in it. The cooking time, conventionally, is upwards of about one hour, this reduces it down to around 20 minutes, all in, even less if you use filleted thighs.

Any leftovers are good roughly chopped and cooked with rice or pasta. Or layered with sliced potatoes to make a gratin.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

100g bacon lardons

2 little gem lettuces, halved 6-8 chicken thighs, skin on

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated

75ml white wine

2 sprigs of tarragon

100ml chicken stock

15g butter

200g petit pois

2 leeks, cut into rounds

50ml single cream

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:

leaves from 1 sprig of tarragon, finely chopped

Method

1. Heat the olive oil in your pressure cooker. When it is hot, add the bacon lardons and the little gems, cut-side down. When the bacon has browned and the underside of the lettuces have taken on some colour, remove from the pressure cooker.

2. Season the chicken thighs on both sides, then fry, skin-side down, until well browned and becoming crisp. Remove from the cooker and add the garlic. Sauté for a minute, then add the white wine. Allow to bubble up and stir to deglaze the cooker, then return the chicken to the cooker, making sure you leave it skin-side up. Tuck in the sprigs of tarragon. Pour over the chicken stock. Close the lid and cook for six minutes at high pressure, then fast release.

3. Add the butter to the pan and pour in the peas. Place the leeks on top, followed by the little gem lettuces. Bring up to high pressure again, then immediately remove from the heat and leave to stand for two to three minutes before releasing any remaining pressure. Stir in the cream and leave to simmer for a further two to three minutes. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of finely chopped tarragon.

Variations:

Using thigh fillets (preferably with the skin on), reduce the first cooking time to two minutes.

This is really good with grilled artichoke hearts in place of the lettuce. Add at the same time as the leeks.

When in season, add asparagus or use it to replace the little gems. Lay on top of the leeks.

Turn into a one pot: Add 400g new or salad potatoes to the cooker before the first HP cook.

Serves 4.

Crispy aromatic duck. Picture: Andrew Hayes-Watkins

Crispy aromatic duck. Picture: Andrew Hayes-Watkins

Crispy aromatic duck pancakes

I get a lot of messages asking me whether it is possible to cook (or part cook) certain dishes in a pressure cooker and this was one of them.

It still takes a bit of time, this. In part because of the overnight salting, which isn't essential but the results will be better for it.

You can use breast or legs, or a combination.

Ingredients

4 duck breasts, legs or a combination

1 tsp Chinese five spice

2 tsp groundnut oil

sea salt

To serve:

Chinese pancakes

1/2 cucumber, shredded lengthways

1 bunch of spring onions, shredded lengthways

hoisin sauce

Method

1. Prick the skin of the duck all over with a fork, a skewer or the point of a knife.

2. Mix the five spice with one teaspoon of salt and rub all over the skin and flesh of the duck. Put in the fridge, preferably overnight.

3. Remove the duck pieces from the fridge and pat dry with kitchen towel.

4. Heat one teaspoon of the oil in your pressure cooker and swirl to coat the base, then add the duck pieces, skin-side down.

5. Leave to fry for around five minutes until they have started to brown and the fat is rendering out.

6. Sear briefly on the flesh side, then leave flesh-side down - the fat will render through the flesh as it cooks, helping with both flavour and texture.

7. Close the lid and cook at high pressure for 30 minutes, then allow to drop pressure naturally. You should find that most of the fat has rendered out into the pressure cooker.

8. Remove the pieces from the pressure cooker. If you want to crisp up the skin, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and sear, skin-side down, for a couple of minutes.

9. Remove to a board and shred with a couple of forks.

10. Serve with warm Chinese pancakes and accoutrements.

Serves 4-6.

Chocolate lime pudding. Picture: Andrew Hayes-Watkins

Chocolate lime pudding. Picture: Andrew Hayes-Watkins

Chocolate lime pudding

This is based on the miracle that is a self-saucing pudding. It reminds me of those chocolate lime sweets I used to love when I was a child, only it is much better.

The time spent here is in the prep as the cooking time is also pretty miraculous.

Ingredients

50g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

100g caster sugar

zest and juice of 2 limes

2 eggs, separated

25g cocoa powder

25g self-raising flour

200ml whole milk

25g chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips

sea salt

To serve:

whipped cream or ice cream

Method

1. Butter an 18cm round ovenproof dish - Pyrex or ceramic is ideal.

2. Beat the butter, caster sugar and lime zest together until very soft and aerated - it will probably also be a bright green from the lime zest. Beat in the egg yolks.

3. Mix the cocoa and self-raising flour together with a generous pinch of salt.

4. Add the lime juice to the milk - it will curdle just as if you were making buttermilk with lemon juice.

5. Beat the flour mixture and milk and lime mixture into the batter. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gently fold through the batter until completely incorporated.

6. Stir in the chocolate shards or chips - this will really intensify the chocolate hit.

7. Scrape into your prepared dish and cover with baking paper. Add two to three centimetres of water to your pressure cooker and add a trivet.

8. Place the dish on the trivet, using the foil handles if necessary.

9. Close the lid and bring up to high pressure. Cook for five minutes, then remove from the heat to drop pressure naturally.

10. Serve with a large dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.

Serves 4.

This story Tips and tricks to get the best out of your pressure cooker first appeared on The Canberra Times.