Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pressure cookers can be a great tool in the kitchen

Back in my younger days I can remember going into my Grandma Hines' kitchen on Saturday mornings to be greeted by the rapid "tick, tick, tick, tick" sound of the pressure cooker on the stove top. The pleasant smell of a beef roast cooking consumed the air. Noon meals on Saturdays at grandma's were usually reserved for beef chuck roast, mashed potatoes, Amish noodles, homemade apple sauce and green beans with a little bit of half and half poured over them. It was a classic, hardy meal for my family who usually needed refueling after a hefty round of morning chores and to prepare for the next round of work in the afternoon. Anyone who ever had the chance to eat this particular meal always raved about it -- including me!

My grandmother passed away a couple of years ago, but her classic meal lives on. Every time I cook this same meal in my kitchen, the aroma takes me back to her kitchen. Funny how music and food tend to take you back to a special place in time.

Grandma's Techniques
Right after I married, I was visiting back home and asked my grandma if she would show me her techniques of cooking her classic Saturday noontime meal that was always so tasty. As I watched, I notice that she had the prep down like clockwork to ensure the meal was ready by a 12:30 p.m. serving time. At 10:30 a.m. she'd started her roast. Even if it only took an hour to cook, she knew how to keep the roast warm by letting it stay in its juices in the cooker until her sides were prepared. 

She could have chose to turn from her traditional ways and use a slow cooker to make a beef chuck roast like many folks do today, but it wouldn't have been the same. There was a graceful madness to her method, which included the amount of salt she used. Grandma loved her salt! As grandma guided me through the roast prepping process, I was amazed that I couldn't see the top of the roast as she prepared it for cooking. It looked like snow! I don't use quite as much salt as she used to, but you do have to use some salt to get the right flavoring.

One of the pluses of this particular recipe is that it is a feast you can complete in a timely fashion, and it taste delightful. I hope you enjoy what I consider some of the best comfort food around!

Step One:  The Pressure Cooker
I recently had to purchase a new pressure cooker. Between my husband and I, we wore out our other one. In this recipe, I am using a 6-quart, stainless steel, Presto pressure cooker. For cooking food, I prefer using stainless steel. Period. I save the aluminum pressure cookers for canning. Personally, aluminum is just too thin for me when it comes to cooking raw food in a pressure cooker, but it works good for hot water baths for canning.

Presto, 6-quart pressure cooker.  Do you notice the little black pressure valve on the right on the lid and the little hole in the handle?  Those are safety features! Don't let the pressure cooker intimidate you! The weight is in the middle.
Step Two:  Beef Chuck Roast
I have found that Costco has wonderful beef chuck roasts. They are huge! And yes, they will cram down into a 6-quart pressure cooker. You can even throw a frozen or partially frozen roast into the pressure cooker (if it isn't too stiff to stick out the top). It will still get done in an hour.


 
Step Three:  Preparing The Roast
Once you have your roast in the cooker get out the salt! Like I mentioned, I don't use as much as grandma did, but be sure to thoroughly salt the top of the roast. A good salt dusting is key, especially for a large roast. Next, pour enough hot water over the roast to cover it. If your roast is big and you are worried about water running over the edge, don't worry if you can't cover it all the way with water. It will do fine. See, I don't have mine fully covered.

 
 

Step Four:  Put the lid on and start cooking
Once you've prepped your roast, put the lid on securely (with rubber seal in place) and put the weight on top of the lid. I don't use the bottom rack that comes with the cooker, but you can if you prefer. You'll notice there is a safety valve on your lid. This is a good thing! Today's pressure cookers have safety features my grandmother's didn't, so don't worry about the lids flying off unless you are really careless!

Put your roast on medium high until you start to hear some steam working its way out of the weight on top of the lid. You'll also notice the lock on the handle will seal and secure (another good thing!). Once the weight starts to tick (and it may start ticking really fast), don't freak out and run for cover!  Just turn down the heat to medium or medium low until the ticking is steady and constant -- not wild! Once the ticking is steady, set your kitchen timer for one hour. After the hour is up, the roast is done! It is that simple! Here is what my pressure cooker sounds like when it is cooking steady:

video

Step Five:  Cooling off
Pressure cookers have safety features so we don't get hurt. When your kitchen timer indicates your roast is done, you'll need to let the pressure cooker cool. You can set it to the side on your stove top. The lid will not unlock until the steam is fully released. To speed up the process, I sometimes will run cold water over the top of the lid at the sink. I also will gently tap the weigh on top to see if the steam is out of the pot, but be careful doing this because it will be hot and you could get a steam burn.

Step Six:  Removing roast from the pressure cooker
Once the lid lock releases, take off the lid. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see a perfectly tender cut of meat ready to serve. Sometimes I'll brown the roast on each side in about two tablespoons of melted butter in a skillet -- assuming I can keep the roast together, because it will be wonderfully tender. In this case, the roast was just right and didn't need any additional cooking. See the nice color? Grandma always said the browning helped to warm the roast, but I think it was because it gave it some additional flavor and a nice brown color. This step is optional.



Step Seven:  Don't get rid of the beef broth
After you remove your roast, keep the broth because you'll need it to cook your Amish noodles. The broth is already nicely salted and has rich flavor -- perfect for cooking noodles. Just add more water to the broth in the pressure cooker (no need to dirty another pot) and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for about 8 minutes. If you can't find Amish noodles in your area, you can find decent comparatives at your local grocery store. I prefer thin Amish noodles from Troyer's in Applecreek, Ohio. A few of the larger farm markets in North Carolina even carry the Amish Wedding brand noodles.

 
 
Step Eight:  Serve!
The nice thing about a tender beef chuck roast is that it is easy to pull apart with a couple of forks to get rid of some of the larger pieces of fat. After breaking up the meat and getting rid of the extra fat, you can place it on a plate by itself or add it directly to the drained noodles. Either way you can't go wrong.

 

Although I don't show it here, the best way to serve Amish noodles is directly on top of mashed potatoes! Yum -- a Dutch classic! Grandma, here's to you!