My mother used a pressure-cooker a couple of times a year to steam artichokes. It made a loud hissing sound and the pressure indicator knob jangled at a furious, nerve-grinding rate as steamed poured out. It was effective in cooking the artichokes, but was a casebook example of a pressure cooker that looked and acted like a culinary time bomb.
I wasn’t opposed to using a pressure cooker, but I’d heard enough stories about exploding lids and bad steam burns to be wary enough not to purchase one. Then I got the call from a client who was dying to learn how to do short ribs during his cooking class. Short ribs, while delicious, are tough cuts of beef that benefit from low and slow cooking. They aren’t hard to make, but they do require a couple of hours to cook making them less than ideal for a cooking class or a weeknight. Not wanting to disappoint, I decided to give pressure cookers another look and was surprised by what I found.
While you can cook almost anything in a pressure cooker, foods that require longer cooking times are ideal. Take short ribs. A typical recipe for braised short ribs might require 2 to 2 1/2 hours of cooking time A pressure cooker can yield a fork tender batch in just 35 minutes. That’s a big difference from both a time perspective and an energy perspective. The latter has made pressure cookers popular as a “green” cooking technique as it requires far less energy to prepare the food. The former, for me at least, opens up a lot of possibilities for delicious, belly-warming food in minutes on busy weeknights.
From a safety perspective, pressure cookers have come a long way. They now have locks that prevent the pressure cooker from being opened until the pressure drops to a safe level as well as a pressure indicator that releases steam as needed to maintain the proper pressure. The pressure cooker I bought also has two different pressure settings: one for more tender, quick cooking items like vegetables and another, higher setting, for items that need a longer cooking time.
You still need to take precautions. Make sure to clean the knobs after each use and be sure to check that the pressure indicator button easily moves up and down before starting to cook. You also want to check the rubber ring that runs along the inside of the lid before cooking to make sure it’s not crack or dried out. After each use, cleaning the ring well with soap and water and rubbing it with a little cooking oil will keep it in good, safe condition.
Cooking with a pressure cooker isn’t hard. Remember that anything you cook in a pressure cooker is going to require liquid in order to make steam. You don’t need a lot of it (be careful not to go above the max fill line on your pressure cooker), but too little can result in it evaporating and your food burning.
Once everything is added to the pot, bring the food to a boil and then give it a quick stir to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cover with the lid. Be sure to lock the lid in place as most modern pressure cookers won’t start to build steam until the lid is locked as an added safety precaution.
If cooking on a gas or induction burner, increase the pressure inside the pot by heating over high or medium heat until the pressure indicator button pops up AND a steady, but not forceful, amount of steam starts to exit the valve at the top of the pot. The steam coming out will be steady and you’ll hear a hissing sound. As soon as this happens, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for the indicated cooking time according to your recipe.
If you regularly cook on a ceramic-glass or electric coil burner, you know that heat control is a little trickier. You can turn a burner from medium-high to medium-low, but the residual heat means that the burner is going to stay hotter for longer than if you were reducing it on a gas burner. The best way to solve this dilemma and prevent pressure from getting too high inside the pot from being held over high over heat for too long is to have another burner set to medium-low. Heat the contents of the pressure cooker on a burner set to medium-high and when the proper pressure is reached simply move the pot to the burner on the lower setting.
Aside from setting a timer, you really don’t have to do much as the food cooks in the pressure cooker. I check on the cooker periodically to make sure the steam is continuing to exit the pot at a steady, but not forceful rate. If the steam is too forceful, I simply reduce the heat a bit. Too low? I turn it up.
After the indicated cooking time has elapsed, you have a couple of options in regards to how to open the pressure cooker. The quickest way to open a pressure cooker is to turn on your sink so you have a steady stream of cold water. Grab both handles of the pressure cooker and place the pot under the stream of water. Allow the water to run over the top of the cooker and down the sides until the pressure indicator valve drops down allowing you to open the pot. This will happen after about 15 seconds and is the ideal way to open the pressure cooker when cooking tender vegetables or foods that will overcook if left under pressure for too long.
For tougher foods that won’t be hurt by a longer cooking time and will benefit from the slow release of pressure (this recipe for short ribs is the perfect example), simply turn off the heat under the pressure cooker and allow the pressure cooker to sit until the pressure naturally drops. This typically takes around 10 to 15 minutes.
The third method, falls in between the other two in terms of time. Most modern pressure cookers have an automatic release setting that releases steam and forces the pressure to drop. This method takes about 2 minutes. Remember to turn off the heat before moving the dial to this setting.
Whatever method you use to release pressure NEVER force open the lid before the pressure indicator has dropped. As I mentioned earlier, most modern pressure cookers have a safety lock that prevents you from doing this, but it’s still a good tip to keep in mind. Even after the pressure has dropped you should be cautious in opening the pot as the contents will be hot.
And that’s it. Feeling confident? Then you’ll want to try out this recipe for Asian-inspired short ribs. Despite the fact that the short ribs cook in a a quarter of the time it typically takes, they are still falling off the bone tender. It’s the sauce however that will truly surprise. It sings with orange and ginger and has a lightness that its appearance wouldn’t suggest. This is sophisticated comfort food done in less than a hour – bon appetit!
Visual Learner? I demonstrated how to use a pressure cooker and how to make these pressure cooker short ribs on WCNC’s Charlotte Today show. Check out the video here.
Asian-Inspired Pressure Cooker Short Ribs – Printer Friendly Recipe
Smaller short ribs (like the one featured in these pictures) make a delicious first course. Larger short ribs make a hearty and satisfying meal. You can halve the number of short ribs used in the recipe, but don’t halve the quantity of liquid.
1-2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
4 lbs (about 8 to 12) bone-in short ribs, trimmed
1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
¼ cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup less-sodium beef broth
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 whole star anise
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 green onions, trimmed, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Heat an 8-quart pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Pat the short ribs dry with paper towels. Add the vegetable oil and add the short ribs, bone side up, to the pot. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side until brown. If necessary, cook the short ribs in batches to avoid overcrowding. Remove the browned short ribs from the pot and set aside.
Stir in the yellow onion and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for another 3 minutes. Return the browned short ribs to the pot, meat side up.
Whisk together the hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, soy sauce, light brown sugar, beef broth, and orange juice. Pour the mixture over the short ribs and toss in the star anise. Turn the heat to high and secure the pressure cooker lid. If possible to adjust settings, set the pressure cooker to the higher setting and bring to the correct pressure. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain pressure, for 35 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally (this will take about 15 minutes) then open the pressure cooker and test for tenderness. If correctly cooked, the shorts ribs will pull apart with the tines of a fork. If still tough, cook under high pressure for another 10 minutes.
Remove the short ribs from the pot and set aside. Remove the pot from the heat and use a spoon to remove the fat from atop the sauce. Discard all but one tablespoon of the fat.
In a small bowl, whisk together the reserved tablespoon of fat with the two tablespoons of flour until a paste is formed. Return the pot with the sauce to medium heat and whisk in the paste. Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes until the mixture thickens and no longer tastes like starch. Return the short ribs to the sauce to coat. Serve the short ribs atop steamed rice with sliced green onions.