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Dinner Under Pressure

Pressure Cooked Risotto

Two passionate cooks live at my house. Both my husband Howard and I love to experiment in the kitchen. We have completely different approaches though. I am the Luddite. Aside from combining ingredients in the food processor, blender, or stand mixer, it’s a mostly manual process.

On the other hand, for Howard, it’s all about the technology. He’s been into sous-vide cooking for years, first assembling his own water immersion unit, then recently buying a more professionally built one. He has a hefty vacuum sealer and the Modernist Cuisine library.

The most recent addition to his arsenal is a pressure-cooker. Pressure cookers aren’t actually new-fangled, or even electric, in this case, so I suppose it’s debatable whether it’s a truly high-tech device. All I can say is that the idea of pressure cooking has always terrified me. I always imagine a resulting explosion and food all over the kitchen ceiling. I’ve been assured by kitchen shop salespeople and more fearless cooks than I that current pressure cooker designs make disaster unlikely, but I’ve had my doubts.

Howard did extensive research, and we visited multiple kitchenware stores. The winner was a Fagor Duo (also a top pick by Cooks’ Illustrated).

Fagor Duo Pressure Cooker

So, what to make as the debut pressure cooked recipe? Howard’s research indicated risotto would be an excellent choice. We have always enjoyed risotto, at home more than in restaurants. I make it somewhat regularly, though not often. There are infinite variations. It’s the perfect vehicle for leftovers. But all that stirring? It’s time-consuming.

Howard told me that once all the chopping was done, risotto in the pressure cooker would take only 7 minutes, unattended. Humph. That seems work a try, as long as he was in charge of the pressure.

We started with a basic risotto with onion, garlic, carrots and fennel. To turn it into a meal, we added assorted leftovers at the end: shredded turkey confit, mashed rutabaga, and braised kale.

It worked. Once the pressure was reached, Howard turned the heat down just a little to stabilize things. Seven minutes later, the rice was perfectly moist and cooked through. Amazing!

I like knowing that when we’re short on time, we can make such an elegant and easy dinner from pantry items and added inspiration from the leftover stash in the refrigerator. Who would think?

Pressure-Cooked Risotto
Serves 6-8

¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
½ bulb fennel, cored and diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cup Arborio rice
2½ cups chicken stock
2/3 cup dry sherry
Chopped fresh rosemary and thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

2-4 cups of additional ingredients, i.e. shredded cooked meat, cooked vegetables, vegetable puree

In the pressure cooker base, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion, fennel, carrot, and garlic. Cook until tender and translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice so that it coats with oil and starts to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and sherry and stir. Pressure-cook on high for 7 minutes. Start timing when full pressure is reached. Depressurize the cooker. Taste for doneness. If it isn’t quite done, simmer for a few more minutes, uncovered, no pressure. Stir in fresh herbs and season to taste. Fold in any additional ingredients and serve.

Elegant and Easy Paella

A highlight of a New England winter is the Maine shrimp season. These delightful pink shrimp have a lot going for them. They’re wild, they’re local, and, most importantly, they’re delicious. The season varies each year. This year, it started on January 2, but with a significantly lower quota than last year. The limit is what keeps the population sustainable, but, at the same time, it also limits the fisherman’s income. The whole question of sustainability raises lots of sticky questions.

We went to Maine for a quick overnight last weekend, so I stopped at the store to see if they had shrimp. The season is nearly over, but they had some in the case. I picked up a couple of pounds. One thing that’s different about the Maine shrimp is that they are pink even before they are cooked. .They are also really easy to clean: the shells are really thin which makes them easy to peel, and they don’t have any noticeable vein to remove. They are on the small side, but so cute when they cook up.

The first night, I made a shrimp scampi over linguine. I winged it, making it like my linguine with clam sauce, but with shrimp. And I simmered the shrimp shells with some butter, lemon and garlic cloves to use instead of clam broth. I didn’t remember to take any pictures, but it was delicious.

With the second half of the shrimp, we made a simple paella. This recipe can easily become part of a weeknight repertoire, though the final product is not at all ordinary. The ingredients were few, and the technique a little different, so I’ll admit I had some doubts. The part that made me nervous was the delicate shrimp spending nearly half an hour in a 500 degree oven. I was sure the shrimp would dry out. However, the recipe was Mark Bittman’s and the book was Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook, so I should have had more faith. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, as was the rice. The only “note to self” for next time is to add a handful of peas to add some color to the dish.

Easiest Paella
Adapted from this recipe
Serves 4 to 6

4 cups chicken stock
Pinch saffron
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
2 cups raw Maine shrimp, peeled
½ pound chorizo, cut into ½-inch slices, then quartered
½ cup frozen green peas

Preheat the oven to 500F. While the oven preheats, heat up the stock and saffron in a saucepan.

In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, until coated with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the warmed stock. There will be a lot of steam, so stand back. If you wear glasses, they will fog.

Stir in the shrimp, chorizo, and peas. Carefully, transfer the pan to the oven.
Bake about 25 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is dry on top. Serve immediately.