Saturday, March 7, 2015


The T-Fal Pressure Cooker

I recently re-organized my kitchen drawers and put the pressure gauge for my 35-year-old pressure cooker in a new place. Now I can't find it. I'm not going to live without a pressure cooker and that's that. You can keep your slow cookers. For my money, the modern pressure cooker, which resists the kinds of silly explosion stories that seem to dog this wonderful appliance even years after manufacturers have designed them so well, cannot fail. In far less time than the slow cooker, you can have fabulous stews, soups, bean dishes, risottos, stocks, desserts all with their full nutritional value. I make a shrimp risotto that takes six minutes to cook once the pot is up to full pressure. This delicious dish is on regular rotation in my kitchen. Last night, I made meaty pork shanks in under 25 minutes that were so tender, they fell off the bone. This is the appliance to tenderize all those economical cuts of beef, lamb, and pork and it takes a fraction of the time to cook than a slow cooker.

My mother had an old Presto pressure cooker in the 70s. It never exploded. But she was one to follow instructions carefully. Today's pressure cookers have all sorts of safety features and come in highly polished stainless steel in four-quart, six-quart, and ten-quart and larger (for canning of jams and vegetables). The appliance I purchased all those years ago at Zabar's in New York was made by T-Fal, the French manufacturer of inexpensive pots and pans. This appliance was made of heavy stainless steel and it produced many a memorable meal over the course of its more than three decades of hard work in my kitchen. So when I decided to purchase a new one, I went to T-Fal and found a brand new one on eBay for less than I paid for the older model. This new model is easier to use than the old one with the gauge built into the lid.  I found meaty pork shanks at Fubon, a large Asian market in SE Portland, and decided to break in the new machine. Here's the recipe:

Greg's Pork Shanks With Tomatoes and Carrots

The cost of veal shanks has put the classic Osso bucco out of the financial reach of most Americans grocery budget. Also I live in Portland, OR, a city that is very wary of veal because of the negative stories on the poor treatment of calves. Some of this is justified, but not every calf is clubbed to death or raised in sub-standard and cramped quarters. Lamb shanks are hard to come by in my town as well. The pork shank  has become a popular braising choice if you know where to find them. Asian markets here now sell them without the hoof, which makes preparation a lot easier and far less squeamish. This particular braising method will produce succulent pork shanks with good flavor and a sauce for polenta. This is a wonderful wintry dish.

2 large pork shanks, skin removed (but leave a little fat for cooking around them), about 12 oz each, 
   lightly dredged in flour
three tablespoons canola or grapeseed olive oil
four anchovies packed in olive oil, drained and patted dry on paper towel
1 yellow onion, medium dice
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into about five pieces each
two stalks celery, sliced diagonally in about eight pieces
1/2 cup sturdy red wine
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1-14 oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 generous teaspoon dried oregano 
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 large, fresh bay leaf
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1) Heat the oil in the bottom a six-quart pressure cooker over medium high heat. Salt and pepper the pork shanks then dredge lightly in flour to cover all over. 

2) Add the floured pork shanks to the pressure cooker and over medium high heat, brown them all over until thoroughly caramelized. This will take about 10 minutes. Remove from the pot and set aside. 

3) To the pot, add the anchovies fillets, onions, celery and carrots, and cook over medium heat, stirring until the onions are a little soft and begin to take on a golden color. The anchovies will dissolve. Watch your flame, you don't want to burn the four on the bottom of the pan. This will take another 10 minutes. 

4) Add the red wine and over medium high heat, let the wine boil down, another two minutes or so, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to dissolve the bits sticking to the pot. In about two minutes, you'll notice the sauce in the pan begin to thicken slightly. Add the chicken broth and diced tomatoes. Rub the dried oregano between the palms of your hands to release their oil and let that fall into the pot, then add the red pepper flakes and bay leaf. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and still one minute. Return the shanks to the pot and cover with the lid closing it according to your manufacturers directions. Watch until the indicator lets you know the pot has come up to full steam (mine has a little red button that pops up). 

5)  Turn heat down  to medium and cook for about 20 minutes. If the machine is hissing steam to much, adjust heat lower. You want a steady hiss, but one that isn't harsh sounding. Let the shanks cook for about 20 minutes. When you've reached that time, turn off the heat. If you like, let the pot release the steam naturally (about 12 minutes). If you're in a hurry, then put the pot in your kitchen sink and run cold water over the lid for about 10 seconds. Jiggle the gauge to make sure the steam has released. Open pot lid, taking care that in doing so, the pot and lid are facing away from you. Return the pot to the stove. 

6) With the folk check for tenderness. A fork should easily insert into the meat indicating how tender it is. If it is not tender, lock the lid back in place and bring to full pressure again and cook for another five minutes. Again, take the pot and put it under cold water again until all the steam is out of the pot.

Serve over polenta with Parmesan cheese and butter.

NOTE:  This recipe will easily include a third pork shank, or even a fourth, but it will depend on the shanks overall size and shape. Don't try to brown them together in the pot at the same time. You'll just ended up steaming the meat. You want room around the shanks to brown properly. Alternately, you can brown four shanks in a large frying pan before transferring them to the pressure cooker. I would add five more minutes cooking time for the four shanks.

I love the pressure cooker for preparing all sorts of bean recipes, rice, and other grains, soups, even desserts. There are also fine cookbooks available. Lorna Sass' COOKING UNDER PRESSURE (William Morrow), THE PRESSURED COOK (Morrow), Rick Rodgers PRESSURE COOKING FOR EVERYONE (Chronicle Books) and MISS VICKIE'S BIG BOOK OF PRESSURE COOKER RECIPES (Wiley) are my recommended volumes on the subjects. 

Now that I found the gauge for the older pressure cooker, I decided to give it to my brother and his fiancee and get them started on using the pressure cooker. I have always considered it a kitchen essential. 


  1. I've been like many others scared to use one! Thanks for demystifying the pressure cooker. Running out to buy one!