Pressure cookers never really did much for me. They seemed fussy and scary. All those stories about explosions ...
Then I used one to make a risotto, a dish that by definition is tedious to make. I was blown away. It simplified the process and most impressively sped it up. What normally takes me 45 minutes in a traditional saute pan was done and ready to serve in about 20. Thats my type of risotto. And my type of pan.
Pressure cookers really are very cool devices. Because the lids clamp on and create a pressured, steam-driven environment, they allow you to cook at higher temperatures. Normal boiling or steaming cooking methods max out around 212 F, the boiling point of water. Pressure cookers allow for water (as steam) to be superheated, reaching as high as 250 F.
The result is a moist, quick method of cooking that produces deliciously tender meats in little time. And modern pressure cookers also happen to be very safe (dont worry about explosions).
My risotto recipe is simple and delicate because I wanted it to showcase the asparagus. But it would be easy to add a touch of garlic, your favorite mushrooms and even tender spring peas.
The second time I made it, I added porcini mushroom powder and it was divine, resulting in a bolder, more umami-filled risotto without any mushroom slices. The garlic and mushrooms or porcini powder should go in at the beginning, and peas should be added when the asparagus is to let the heat of the steaming rice cook the tender vegetables.
I have never had so much fun making risotto. Now that I have the hang of using the pressure cooker, I cant wait to tackle short ribs, chicken Marbella, whole stuffed artichokes and grits, too anything that normally takes hours and/or lots of stirring to make.
EDITORS NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned.