A few weeks ago I got an email from the lovely people over at America’s Test Kitchen. They told me about a new book they are launching that’s centered around pressure cookers. My first thought was to delete the email immediately and never think of it again. For some reason the pressure cooker is one kitchen device I’ve never used and, frankly, have always been a bit scared to use.
After all, I’ve watched enough Mythbusters to know what happens when you use pressure devices incorrectly. They can go BOOM. Big BOOM.
But after some back and forth they convinced me to give it a whirl. In fact, they even offered to send me a pressure cooker. They were okay with the fact that I’ve never used one before and the whole point was to get people more comfortable with the device.
After unwrapping what I was sure would be the last kitchen device I ever used, I took a deep breath, read the instructions very thoroughly, and proceeded to make a delicious pork dish in about an hour that would’ve normally taken me four hours.
1) Slice off any large pieces of fat from your pork and cut it into about 1-inch cubes. Pat the cubes dry and season them well with salt and pepper.
2) Add one tablespoon oil to a large (6 or 8 quart) pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Brown meat in two batches on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Remove pork from pan when it's nicely browned.
3) Heat other tablespoon of oil in the pan (you may not need this tablespoon if there is lots of fat from the pork in the pan). Add onions and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook for 4-5 minutes until onions soften, then add minced garlic and spices.
4) Cook for 30 seconds until spices are fragrant, then stir in flour and cook for a minute.
5) Whisk in broth, scraping up any bits stuck to the pan. Stir in tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and browned pork plus any juices that accumulated with the pork.
6) Stir everything together, lock the pressure cooker lid and place over medium-high heat. When pot reaches high pressure, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 30 minutes, adjusting heat to maintain high pressure.
7) After 30 minutes, remove from heat and let pressure release naturally for 15 minutes. When pressure allows, remove lid and let steam escape away from you.
8) Bring vindaloo to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Stir in cilantro or basil and serve immediately over rice.
Recipe adapted from Pressure Cooker Perfection.
The most important thing to know about pressure cookers is that they have come a long way. These days, they are very sturdy and come with all sorts of safety valves and releases. I’m not even sure it’s possible to have one explode with all the safety devices built in.
Plus most modern ones are built like a crock pot and a tank had a baby.
The one that the Test Kitchen team recommended is the one they sent me and the one I would recommend also because I know very little about them. This one was really easy to use though and I feel very comfortable recommending it to other people.
The science behind the pressure cooker is pretty straightforward. Water typically boils at around 212 degrees Fahrenheit so if you bring something like this pork sauce to a boil, that’s the highest temperature you can achieve. But, if you put the contents under pressure, then you can raise that temperature up to around 250 degrees which cuts a standard 3-4 hour cook time down to about 45 minutes.
Pretty awesome stuff.
This recipe was really easy with the help of the pressure cooker. What would normally be a meal that I would need to save for a weekend, I made on a Tuesday.
It starts with about three pounds of boneless pork shoulder. Trim off any huge pieces of fat from the pork and then dice it into about 1-inch pieces. Season the pork really well with salt and pepper.
Before you start cooking, I also recommend getting all your other ingredients ready which means chopping a bunch of onions and garlic and also measuring out the spices.
If I would change one thing about this recipe, I think I would make it spicier. I like my Indian food to be very spicy and this recipe was pretty mild in the spice department. It had great flavor but wasn’t spicy really.
If you like spicy food, I would recommending adding more cayenne pepper or some dried arbol or bird chiles to the cooking liquid.
When you’re ready to start cooking, add a small amount of oil to the pressure cooker and brown the pork pieces over medium-high heat. You’ll want to do this in two batches so the pork pieces can brown nicely and each batch should brown for about eight minutes.
Then scoop out the pork pieces and set them aside for a few minutes.
If your pan is dry, add a bit more oil to it and then add all the onions. I didn’t need any extra oil for my version because the pork had some fat on it that melted out as it browned.
Cook the onions for about five minutes until they start to soften. Then add the garlic and all the spices and cook for another minute or so.
Then add the flour to the pot and stir it into the onions. Cook for about a minute to cook out some of the flour taste.
Then whisk in the stock (you could also just use water I think). Use the liquid to scrape up any bits stuck to the pan and then stir in the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and pork.
Your pot should look something like this when it’s ready to be pressurized.
30 Long Minutes
Before you cook with your pressure cooker, be sure to spend some time reading the directions. All of them are a bit different, but most should have a low pressure and high pressure setting. We want the high pressure for this dish.
I locked on my lid, put it over a medium-high heat, and watched.
After about 7-8 minutes, the little pressure knob popped up which meant that my pot was at high pressure. Then I just needed to turn down the heat to a low temperature and keep it at high pressure for thirty minutes.
I’ll be honest, this was a bit stressful. I watched the pot constantly for 30 minutes. The truth is that there was very little danger in this. If too much pressure would’ve built up, the gasket on the cooker would’ve released the pressure. There was probably a higher chance of an actual bomb hitting my house than this becoming a bomb.
I watched it continuously nonetheless.
After thirty minutes, kill the heat and let the pressure slowly normalize. This takes about 15-20 minutes and most pressure cookers won’t let you take off the lid until the pressure is back to normal.
Honestly, removing the lid is probably the most dangerous part. Even when the pressure is normalized, a lot of steam will come out when you take the lid off and it could burn you if you aren’t ready for it. I recommending take it off slowly and removing the lid away from you so the steam doesn’t come back in your face.
The sauce looked more or less the same, but the pork was a completely different beast. It had become SO tender and delicious.
I simmered my sauce just for a few minutes to thicken it a bit and then stirred in some fresh herbs and seasoned it with a pinch of salt and pepper. The original recipe called for cilantro, but I used some basil I had. Either would work I think.
Serve the delicious stuff over rice!
Now, for those that don’t have a pressure cooker, you could still make this recipe. Once you have the mixture together, just transfer it to a large dutch oven or heavy oven-safe pot and cook it in the oven at 300 degrees for about 3 hours. You should get similar results but it’s just going to take much longer.
After all that I think I’m a pressure cooker convert.