Whether it’s a first date, first time solo in the cockpit of an F-22 Raptor, or first touch of that spankin’ new, “lastest ‘n greatest” smart phone you’ve just committed a 2-year contract to, as “simple” as it may appear, there’s certainly going to be a few things you need to know before you start, and learn more about as you go. And a pressure cooker is no exception.
In the case here, there are a few rules and procedures that set a pressure cooker apart from your conventional cookware which need to be taken into consideration. Far apart actually, as in much, MUCH FASTER COOKING TIMES. Up to 70% quicker, SERIOUSLY, as I soon discovered.
That sealed-in, high pressure heat inherent in pressure cooking is also said to retain much more of the natural moisture AND water-soluble vitamins and minerals in the food using this method, hence this is also a HEALTHY way to cook.
The significantly faster cooking times also makes a pressure cooker VERY ENERGY EFFICIENT. Especially when you consider the extremely high, beyond-boiling point 257ºF cooking temperature a pressure cooker generates within its hallowed walls requires only a low heat source setting from your stovetop burner once the 15 psi pressure is achieved.
So if you’ve already converted all your appliances to Energy Star compliant models and changed all your incandescent bulbs in your home to compact fluorescents (CFLs), you best be adding a pressure cooker to your energy (cost)-saving “THINK GREEN” must-have list.
After recently hearing my coworkers rave about how they’ve prepared dishes such as St. Paddy’s day corned beef brisket and pot roasts in just minutes in their pressure cooker – both which can normally take several hours conventionally – I was sold.
So I headed out on a hunt for a good price on a good quality model and ended up with a very nice one from ROSS’ Hawaii Kai store (gotta’ love that store). According to their price tag, this item’s regular retail price is $90, yet they were selling it for just $41. Works for me. Sold.
The pressure cooker I got that’s featured here today is manufactured by FAGOR, a major appliance manufacturer based in Spain.
Like other manufacturers, FAGOR offers several pressure cooker models. The one I have is the Rapida, which is their most basic model, and didn’t come with any accessories, which in hind sight, I kinda’ wish I got that. Then again, I don’t want any more “stuff” than my cramped condo-sized kitchen already has, so this works. If I do need any other accessories, I’m good at “McGuyvering” stuff in my kitchen.
Here’s the entire list of features and benefits of my new kitchen gadget “toy”:
RAPIDA 6-QUART PRESSURE COOKER
Manufactured by FAGOR
• Made of 18/10 stainless steel
• 3-ply Stainless Steel/Aluminum/ Stainless Steel thermo heat conductive base for even heat distribution
• Cooks on all types of stove tops: gas, electric, ceramic or induction
• Heavy-duty silicone gasket (replaceable)
• U.L. approved
• 10 year warranty – fully guaranteed
• Safety lock on handle prevents opening before all pressure is released
• Two independent over-pressure release valves assure no pressure build-up
6-Quart Rapida Belly-shaped Pressure cooker
• Instructions manual with Recipes and instructional DVD
Here’s the same Fagor Presssure Cooker instructional video on the included DVD that someone uploaded on YouTube…
Other features on the box go on to say:
• Reduces cooking time up to 70%
• Easily adapt your recipes and cook 1/3 of the time (instructions inside)
• Load ingredients, lock lid in place and begin cooking… release pressure and enjoy healthy, flavorful meals
• Create delicious meals while retaining important water-soluble vitamins and minerals
• The tender taste of slow cooking
• Cooks without oil (fat)
• Maintains the natural color and flavor of foods
COOKS: Vegetable Medley in 2 minutes, Fresh Steamed Lobster in 3 minutes, Cioppino in 5 minutes, Bean Soup in 20 minutes, Mediterranean Chicken in 15 minutes, Risotto in 7 minutes, Pasta Primavera in 7 minutes, Pepper Steak in 4 minutes, Cheesecake in 30 minutes, Chili in 16 minutes, Fajitas in 5 minutes, Corn Chowder in 12 minutes.
Wow, those are some mighty quick cooking times! I must note that Fagor’s Rapida and Splendid pressure cooker models are made in China, while the more expensive Express, Duo, Futuro and Elite models are made in Spain.
Still, the fit and finish quality of this Rapida Pressure Cooker is absolutely top notch, with not one visible flaw. In fact it’s so gorgeous, I actually polished it with my Diamond Magic polish (awesome stuff as well) after each use so far, as I still have that “brand new” novelty within me about this wonder of cooking beauty. In other words, I consider we’re both still on our first dates phase and “courting” each other. lol
It’s has a considerably hefty feel to it, with thick 18/10 stainless steel pot walls, and of course that all-important 3-ply stainless/aluminum/stainless steel conductive heat “sandwiched” pot base.
Here’s a closer look at the controls built into the pressure cooker’s black ABS lid handle…
The lid handle interlocks with the pot handle, which you do by aligning that line (where the blue arrow is pointing) with the pot handle, making sure the lid’s lip is aligned with the pots flange, then you simply turn the lid handle towards the pot handle, where they interlock with each other . Then you lock the lid in place by moving that green switch forward.
The yellow “button” forward of the green lid locking switch is not really a button, but a pressure indicator. This yellow button pops up once the cooker has reached its 15 psi cooking pressure.
Up from there is a dial switch with three positions: Unlock , Steam Release and High. To start pressure cooking, you move this to the High position. When the cooking time is up, you can do one of several things, depending on what you’re cooking:
You can immediately release the pressure to stop the cooking process by turning this dial switch to the Steam Release position, which it will blow the hot steam right out of a hole that’s built into the front side of that dial switch. Be very careful when doing this, as it spits out very hot high-pressured steam!
Or you can immediately bring down the pressure the “old fashioned” way by running the pot under cold water to quickly cool it down.
Or you can let it relieve its pressure “naturally” by just turning off the heat and setting the cooker aside. Keep in mind, if you do this, the food CONTINUES to cook for a long time due to the hot pressurized steam remaining “trapped” inside, even after it’s not on the fire. Which probably would be ok for making stocks, but may not be ideal if critical cooking times for meats, vegetables and such are a consideration.
Moving along on our little “tour” of my new Rapida pressure cooker, here’s that 3-ply sandwiched stainless steel/aluminum/stainless steel conductive thermo heat base…
This both literally and figuratively puts the stamp of QUALITY in this wonderful piece of cooking magic, as it gives me the confidence that not only will the heat be distributed more evenly, but that it will also help to prevent scorching. Or so I thought, as you shall soon find out! lol
Next to that 3-ply heavy-duty base, another critical component of this wonder cooker is the heavy-duty “C” profile silicone gasket that literally LOCKS & SEALS the pressure in…
Under the lid you can also see the two pressure valves, while also notice the lid has tabbed segments incorporated into its stamped steel design that fold over around its perimeter. These interlock with matching tabbed segments on the perimeter of the pot’s rim, so when you put the lid on and align the lid handle with the pot handle, there’s virtually NO WAY the lid could blow off while it’s under pressure.
When you turn the handles to align and lock the lid nto place with the pot, you can feel the gasket compress, as it gives a slight resistance as you turn it into the locked position. For added safety, once again there’s that green locking switch on the lid handle, which I must also note, there’s an interconnected mechanism that will not all allow you to unlock the lid unless the High/Steam/Unlock switch dial is in the UNLOCK position.
That makes 3 levels of safety redundancy built right in, so no worries of having your squid luau or oxtail soup become your new kitchen wall paper “look”. lol
One note on storage, according to the manufacturer, you shouldn’t store the pressure cooker with the lid on, especially in the LOCKED position, as this will cause the silicone gasket to prematurely “compress” and have a less than ideal seal when in use. They recommend storing it with the lid either turned upside down or separately. They also recommend lightly coating the silicone gasket with cooking oil to keep it pliable.
That’s pretty much the physical make-up of my modern day pressure cooker. Certainly steps ahead from the “stovetop grenade” your grandma may have had.
Now let’s talk cooking times, which as already noted, these things can RIP. There’s an an excellent and very informative site on all things pressure cooker over at MissVickie.com, where of course there’s a pressure cooking time chart for all types of foods. In that chart, it states Pork Butt takes just 35-40 minutes to cook. It doesn’t say at what level of doneness (just cooked through or pulled-pork fork tender), but that’s still mighty quick.
That said, one of the first things I wanted to try in my new pressure cooker was Kalua Pig, which as you may know normally takes about 8 hours in a conventional oven (a bit shorter in convection), or even longer in an Imu (traditional Hawaiian underground oven).
So I set off on my first attempt at pressure-cooked Kalua Pig, on my first time EVER using a pressure cooker.
Just one problem. One MAJOR problem. Being the “typical man” that I am, did I read my new pressure cooker instructions manual or watch the instructional DVD BEFORE using it for the first time? Nope. Because, you know, when it comes to “gadgets” or anything mechanical or electronic, us fellahz think that we got it ALL FIGURED OUT. I mean, how complicated can this be, right? “Manual, shmanual” as far as we’re concerned.
Well there’s just one important piece of information I was not aware of as a pressure cooker “newbie”, and that’s that you must TURN DOWN the fire to LOW once the cooker achieves full 15 PSI pressure. Did I lower the heat from high to low once the pressure was on max? Nope. And guess what? It was A DISASTER! Talk about “Chernobyl” Kalua Pig, that’s pretty what I had! LOL!
Well, not really “laughing out loud”, as the smell was actually kinda’ TOXIC from the combination of burnt-to-the-crisp ti leaves and pork butt. So much that I had to open all the windows and turn on every fan in the house to get the smell out. ACK!!! While “smell-o-vision” would be great, trust me, this is one time you DO NOT WANT smell-o-vision, as this thing smelled just NASTY!
I didn’t even take anymore photos after that shot, as it was SO not pretty under that top layer of ti leaves. Ugh. lol
Rewinding on what went wrong, first let me say what I did right, which was adding 2 cups of water, which is what MissVickie.com recommends when cooking Pork Butt in a pressure cooker.
As for preparing the pork butt, I simply coated it generously with liquid smoke and Hawaiian sea salt, then wrapped it ENTIRELY (key word here) with Ti Leaves, set it in the pressure cooker pot, covered it with the 2 cups water, locked the lid, set the fire on high and let her rip.
Now for what I did WRONG, which as you already know, I didn’t turn the heat down to LOW once the cooker reached full pressure. So this thing was cooking away at GOD KNOWS how high of a temperature, but certainly way, WAY higher than what it was designed to be cooking at.
The high heat maintained from the burner ended up making the pressure in the cooker exceed the 15 psi ceiling, where the automatic pressure relief valve (thank goodness it has that!) stayed open more or less throughout the cooking time. Which me being a “newbie” thought this was “normal”, but Hell no, I found out the hard way that that’s NOT normal. This open valve ended up letting all the moisture out of the pot, while entirely evaporating the two cups of water that was in there. Not good.
While it was cooking, everything seemed fine, and it smelled “OK”, up until about 40 minutes into the cooking time, then it started to smell “strange”, yet not BAD…. yet. Then about just 5 minutes later it was like “dayummm!, what the heck is goin’ on in there?!!!”. So I finally shut off the fire and just let it cool down naturally, mainly to (hopefully) let the pork continue cooking so it would reach fork-tender doneness. That extended cooking time as “naturally” cooled down just gave the ti leaves and and burnt pork on the bottom more time to burn even more.
I must say though, the pork that DIDN’T burn (which actually was most of it) was indeed pull-apart fork tender after just about 1 hour of cooking/BURNING. Too bad the toxic, horrid aroma from the burnt ti leaves and scorched pork on the bottom of the pot pretty much ruined the entire batch. It smelled so bad, I didn’t even risk tasting it.
When I attempt (stress ATTEMPT) to make Kalua Pig again in my pressure cooker, not only will I turn down the fire, but I’ll probably add a little more water. I also won’t put any ti leaves on the bottom (wrapped around the pork), but just cover it in layers ON TOP and AROUND the pork butt. Good Lord, burnt Ti Leaves smells HORRID! lol
After learning the hard way once again that men really don’t know it all when it comes to gadgets, this time around I read the instructions manual thoroughly from cover to cover, watched the included instructional DVD and also checked out a few pressure cooker demonstrations on YouTube. I then set off to make another dish that takes a while to cook, which is “Local style” Sweet & Sour Spare Ribs. This one using my Aunt’s favorite recipe, which is simply a 4 lb. tray of pork spare ribs, ginger, daikon, carrots and 1 cup each of shoyu, sugar, vinegar and 1 can of chunk pineapple, including the juice. In this case, I used apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar, as I think apple cider vinegar has a better flavor when cooking with it.
While pressure cooking is indeed, fast, energy efficient and healthy, if there’s one “drawback” to it, is that you can’t just open the lid whenever you want to check on your food, stir it, or add ingredients as the cooking time progresses.
As you know when it comes to dishes such as pot roasts, stews and soups, most vegetables and/or starch ingredients in these recipes cook much faster than the tough cuts of meats it also uses. So with pressure cooking, many recipes have to be cooked in several pressurized “sessions”. Or as MissVickie.com calls it, the “Phased Pressure Cooking Method“: 1st pressurized phase the meat, 2nd pressurized phase the vegetables and/or starch and the 3rd unpressurized phase, the thickener. You get the idea.
So going off the cooking chart, which calls for just 10 minutes to pressure cook pork spare ribs, I cooked the (slightly-browned) meat, along with the the shoyu, sugar, vinegar, pineapple chunks ‘n juice and ginger for just 5 minutes pressure time.
Note that when you time pressure cooking, you start the timer from the time it reaches full 15 PSI pressure (when that yellow indicator button pops up), NOT when you first put the cooker on the fire. So while it does look amazingly fast on paper, the reality is theres that approximate 5 minutes of time it takes to pressure up , AND also the time it takes to pressure down (if required) when considering the TOTAL PROCESS (not cooking) TIME, not just the pressurized time.Plus the prep time such as peeling the vegetables ‘n stuff of course.
So anyway, after just 5 minutes of cooking time under pressure, I cut the LOW heat off and let it reduce pressure naturally. This took about another 10 minutes for the yellow pressure indicator button to go down, meaning it’s now safe to remove the lid. Which it then looked like this…
Yup, just 5 minutes of pressurized cooking time yielded pork spare ribs that were already falling off the bones, while the sweet and sour “sauce” was beautifully incorporated and infused with onolicious flavor from the bones in the pork.
That’s the first pressurized phase. Next pressurized phase, in goes the the daikon and carrot root veggies…
Let her go for 5 more minutes under pressure, let her cool down naturally (about 15 minutes), then voila, Sweet & Sour Spare Ribs…
A closer look…
Serve it up…
As you can see, I insist on using only the finest Chinaware for my food presentations. lol
Seriously though, it turned out BROKE DA’ MOUT’ WINNAHZ! What’s interesting is I didn’t even need to do the 3rd thickening phase of adding a cornstarch and water slurry, as the sugar caramelized enough to give it just the right amount thickness.
Here you can kinda’ see the fat and meat of the spare ribs is practically MELTING apart off my spoon…
You know that cartilage-like texture of the “bone” in pork spare ribs? Well these were so soft, yet had just enough “crunch” to it if you know what I mean. Plus, the flavor from the sweet and sour sauce was completely permeated throughout meat, bone and fat of the spare ribs and veggies, thanks to the benefit of high pressure cooking. Winnahz!
In hindsight, I don’t think this recipe needed to be done in 2 phases, as the spare ribs cooked so quickly, I think the root vegetables probably would have been perfectly cooked just as well had I put it all in the pot at the same time from the beginning. So there you go, just take the recipe I gave above and simply throw everything in your pressure cooker, let her rip for 10 minutes, then let it cool down naturally, and voila, you going stay get PERFECT local style Sweet ‘n Sour Spare Ribs.
My third and most recent pressure cooker project to date was Okinawan Pig’s Feet Soup, a.k.a. Ashitibichi, where here’s the final result…
Gotta’ admit, that looks pretty darned OISHII! And you know what? It was very oishii! At least it came out more authentic tasting than my first attempt at Ashitibichi in a conventional pot. Not that I attribute my newfound success at making this dish to pressure cooking, yet I do think it did help extract more flavor out of the bones to make the soup broth.
I’ll now run you through how I did it, while pointing out again that I’m still LEARNING my pressure cooker, realizing just how FAST this thing is at cooking what normally takes much, much longer for these tough cuts of meats. In this case, the pig’s feet and hocks, which we have in raw state here…
Oh, don’t gross out. If you ate a bacon cheeseburger or bacon ‘n eggs anytime recently, this ain’t that much different, and mighty tasty if done the right way. Give it a try!
Along with that one HUGE cut of pig’s feet and hock part are a few cuts of spare ribs for added “meat” in the final soup.
Now the deal with properly preparing Ashitibichi is you MUST remove the blood and “scum” from the meat and bones before making the soup, as the broth has to taste “clean”. The way you do that, is you parboil the pig’s feet for about 10 minutes, and then drain and thoroughly rinse it. So another mistake I made was thinking I could “parboil” it in high pressure mode in the pressure cooker to remove the blood and excess fat. WRONG.
What happened was, even for a short 5 minutes of pressurized cooking, the pork meat already began pulling off the bones of both the feet ‘n hocks and spare ribs…
…and I STILL have to add water to make the broth. Not surprisingly, upon doing that, returning it to the heat under pressure, after 15 minutes of cooking, the pig’s feet was pretty much rendered to loose bones with all the meat and skin barely sticking to it…
All I did in this next shot was turn the spoon, and it easily, without any restraint, FELL APART…
Which is fine if all you want is “pork soup”, but we want “Pig’s Feet Soup”, where there’s still a foot intact to gnaw on, so this won’t work. I’ll still use the “meat” (because that’s all it is now), but I’ll have to go get another package of pig’s feet and do that step again using a different method.
Here’s that overcooked “destroyed” pig’s feet and spare ribs, drained and put in a bowl on the side…
Of course all this tender pork meat is still good and will be used in the soup as an added “bonus”. Thankfully I also got a WONDERFUL pork broth out of that, which I placed in another separate container, and then refrigerated it overnight so I could easly skim off any separated fat off the top…
So back to the drawing board, I got another package of pig’s “trotters”, this time only the trotter part (no hocks), since I already had plenty of “meat” from the previous batch…
Doesn’t that look lovely? lol
This time around, to remove the blood and “scum”, I parboiled them UNPRESSURIZED for 10 minutes, placing the pressure cooker lid loosely on the pot without locking it. Out they came after being rinsed and drained looking like this…
That’s much better than the pretty much fully-cooked state they were in my first attempt. Cut up into individual pig’s feet servings, they looked like this…
By now you may feel a little squeamish looking at all these animal parts, so we’ll change gears and talk for a moment about the other ingredients that goes into traditional Okinawan Pig’s Feet Soup. One of the most unique being Chinese Squash, a.k.a. Winter Melon, or as the Okinawans call it “Togan”….
The flesh and seeds inside…
To describe how Togan tastes raw, it’s pretty much like eating an unripe melon or cantaloupe, sans the sweet or fruit-flavored element. It’s very subtle and nondescript, with no bitterness, acidity or sweetness whatsoever. I think what’s best about it is that it absorbs all the flavors of the broth once it’s cooked through. The skin is very easy to peel with a standard handheld vegetable and fruit peeler, while the seeds are also easy to scoop out using just a spoon. Very easy to work with. I got this quarter-section of Togan from the Kaheka Don Quijote for $1.49/lbs., which came out to about $4 for this piece, as a WHOLE Togan is is nearly as large as a watermelon.
One of my favorite ingredients in this soup are the tied knots of kombu….
Seriously, I could just as well take that hot pork broth and fill it up with a whole bunch of tied kombu knots for some Kombu Soup and call it a day.
Along with that are cut daikon and carrots, where here I have all the other “veggies” prepped and ready to hit what will actually be the third phase of cooking the vegetables…
So here we have the pot of pig’s feet soup after the pig’s feet have been “half-cooked”, where I used the broth from my first batch of pig’s feet for even more intense flavor…
In went all them “veggies”, then I turned back on the pressure cooker for another 10 minutes…
Then immediately released the pressure using the dial switch, to which my pretty much finished Ashitibichi turned out looking like this…
Serve ’em up…
I think the pig’s feet are done just right at this point, where they still had some integrity, yet once it hits your mouth, it melts apart. You can see in this angle where the all-important marrow in the center of the bones was so soft, I could easily suck it out…
Like pig’s feet “buttah”…
I definitely did VERY well with the authenticity of the broth flavor this time, thanks to not adding dashinomoto, which made my first attempt at Ashitibichi taste more like Japanese Oden. My only other flavoring in the broth besides the pig’s feet (and various “veggies”) was Miso paste of the “shiro” (white) variety, which I used in restraint, adding it ever so slightly to taste.
The “veggies” were done pretty much how I wanted them, although I think the carrots could have used a little more time. I put in the mustard cabbage raw, as I like it that way, but you can cook it in the final phase if you don’t like the “bite” it has. I like that bite and crispy green taste mustard cabbage has in its raw state, so this was fantastic for me.
In hindsight of my first (actually second within a first) attempt at making Okinawan Pig’s Feet Soup in a pressure cooker, I think just like Sweet & Sour Spare Ribs, next time I’m going to put everything in from the start, except the kombu, as the Pig’s Feet cooks SO QUICK, I’m confident the veggies will still have enough al dente doneness doing it that way. I’ll keep you posted when that happens.
Summing it up, I give my pressure-cooked Ashitibichi on this attempt 3 SPAM Musubi, the pressure-cooked Sweet & Sour Spare Ribs 5 Musubi, with “no comment” on my pressure-cooked “rookie” Kalua Pig, other than to ask, “How often have first dates ever been PERFECT?” LOL!
I’m really looking forward to trying more favorite recipes in my new pressure cooker, such as Portuguese Bean Soup, Pot Roast, Squid Luau and Laulau, just to name a few. This pressure cooker has already proven to be one of the best investments for my kitchen (besides the new kitchen itself) I’ve made yet. Every home should have one!