I remember making lentils for the first time in my pressure cooker (this was before I went to culinary school). It blew up. My super-white kitchen was suddenly covered in yellow spots. The thing wouldn’t stop spewing lentils; I had to throw a towel over it. The problem, it turned out, was caused by a single lentil that had become stuck in the old-style pressure release valve, jamming it shut.
For years after that, I was scared to use a pressure cooker. But joining The Cooking Lab cured me of my fear as I saw how safe modern pressure cookers are when used properly — and how useful they are for risotto, stocks, vegetables… you name it. Because water boils at higher temperature inside a pressurized environment, risottos and other grains cook faster, in a pressure cooker, stocks are richer, and natural sugars caramelized more easily. Now I use a pressure cooker all the time — but only after I read the manual.
Anjana Shanker, Development Chef
Additional Tips for Pressure-Cooking
- Each model is different. Always read the manual before using your pressure cooker.
- Our favorite model is the Kuhn Rikon Duromatic.
- We love pressure cookers for three main reasons: economy, efficiency, and creativity. Pressure-cooking saves money on ingredients because it boosts yields; a pressure-cooked stock can be made from one-eighth as much meat as a conventional stove-top stock, for example. Pressure-cooking can cut cooking time by as much as three-quarters. And you can make creative use of the higher temperatures inside the cooker to achieve terrific effects that are hard to get any other way. Our recipe for carrot soup, for example, exploits the acceleration of caramelization and Maillard reactions that happen under pressure. Most any alkaline food (like the garlic in our confit) benefits from cooking this way at higher temperatures. So do grains and tough cuts of meat, which become tender more quickly in a pressure cooker.
- Most sous vide bags are not meant to withstand the high heat of pressure cookers. Use a retort bag instead.
- If you are using a jar or retort bag in your pressure cooker, it is necessary to use the trivet or rack (included with most models) to hold the container off the bottom of the cooker. Otherwise the bag might scorch, or the jar might rattle and crack.
- Pressure is created by steam. If you use a jar or bag, fill the pressure cooker with enough water to cover the trivet to a depth of about one-quarter inch, which should be enough to fill the container with steam at 1 bar / 15 psi above ambient atmospheric pressure.
- Use rubber tongs to remove jars or bags so that you don’t burn yourself.
- When using a jar in your pressure cooker, the jar may crack if you tighten the lid of the jar fully. Back the lid off a quarter turn shy of tight to allow a small gap through which the air in the jar can escape as the contents expand with heat.
- Most pressure cookers are not designed for canning, so we don’t recommend using them to cook food that will be stored without refrigeration. Pressure canners are different from pressure cookers; a pressure canner has a gauge and a calibrated weight, which is crucial for assuring that the temperature inside has reached the pasteurization temperature that is called for in the recipe.
- If you overheat a pressure cooker, it can become overpressurized and sustain damage to the flanges that hold the lid on. All pressure cookers include safety mechanisms release that steam if the pressure gets too high. But if steam is shooting out the release vent, then the liquid inside is probably boiling rapidly, which is not good for the food inside.
- Never open a pressure cooker while it is pressurized. The sudden release of the hot steam and water can inflict serious burns.
- To release the pressure before opening the cooker, run cold water over the lid and sides of the pot, or better yet set the pressure cooker in a sink filled with enough cold water to come about one third of the way up the cooker, and then run water over the top. A slower but simpler alternative is to remove the pressure cooker from the heat source and let the pressure subside naturally as the pot cools in the air.
Additional Tips for Garlic Confit
- Try using duck fat instead of olive oil. We often do!
- The cooking time in this particular recipe allows for a large margin of safety, so it can remain at room temperature indefinitely as long as the lid remains sealed. Once opened, the garlic confit will last about two months, refrigerated (the colder, the better).
- We use the garlic confit in a wide range of soups and sauces, including our Thanksgiving Gravy.
- If you do not have a pressure cooker but want to try one of our recipes that calls for garlic confit, roast the garlic and store it in olive oil. Roasted garlic lacks the deep caramelized notes that form during pressure-cooking, however, and it should be refrigerated.
- Garlic confit is also delicious spread on toast or warm bread. Try it on hors d’oeuvres or just make some up for yourself and curl up on the couch with a slice.
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