Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pressure Cooker Beef Bourguignon

Pressure Cooker Beef Bourguignon

So another pressure cooker recipe from Pressure Cooking for Everyone... being a stew served on a bed of something starchy, it isn't even that visually distinct from the last one (though I would argue this is a significantly better photo)... and be warned, I've got an additional pressure cooking cookbook from the library that I want to test drive, so you'll be seeing this type of posts for a while yet I suspect. However, I do understand that this topic is only useful to people who own (or are looking for reasons to own) a pressure cooker, so I'll try to interject some single atmosphere cooking in between explorations of stews on starch and fifteen varieties of pressure cooked risottos (not that bad I hope, but I make no promises).

Before I get to the ingredients and directions for the recipe, I did want to air out one pet peeve I have about pressure cooking cookbooks... including Pressure Cooking for Everyone... in that they tend to focus solely on the "time under pressure" when mapping out how long a recipe is going to take. I suppose it's not a lot different from "30 minute recipes" where they completely ignore any prep time, but giving the time the recipe is going to be under pressure doesn't really communicate much of anything about how long before you can get the meal on the table... and obviously some of this occurs in many a traditional cookbook as well, but I think it  is most egregious in pressure cooking, where it seems the authors are bound and determined to give the impression that you could bang out beef bourguignon in a pressure cooker as quickly as you could bake a frozen pizza. However, with a 15 minute prep, browning the meat in batches (say 5 minutes), sauteeing the mushrooms and other veggies (another 5),  getting the cooker up to pressure (5-10 minutes), the pressure cooking itself (20 minutes), and finally defatting the cooking liquid and making the sauce (10 minutes)... a "20 minutes at high pressure" recipe took about an hour to make. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, and an hour in the kitchen is about what I expect making a real dinner on a weeknight... but I don't know why there is such an effort to be misleading about the cooking times. Isn't the fact that I can make fantastic beef bourguignon in an hour start to finish amazing enough? It's gotta be something on the order of 2-3 hours for every "normal" recipe I've ever seen...  so why oversell it?

So that's my mini-rant and warning to prospective pressure cooker owners... don't get fooled by "time at pressure" into thinking you can whip up beef stew in thirty minutes... but that said, high pressure cooking does give you some pretty sweet weeknight dinner options that would be otherwise unimaginable.

So finally, let's move on to the recipe itself, that regardless of timing came out wonderfully:

Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 bacon strips, coarsely chopped (Tip:  freeze the bacon for 15-20 minutes before chopping)
  • 3 pounds beef bottom round, cut into 1.5" chunks
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 10 ounces button mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 medium carrots, cut into 1" lengths
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots (2 medium)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup hearty red wine, like Zinfandel or Merlot
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Directions
  1. In a 5-7 quart pressure cooker, heat the oil over medium heat. Fry the bacon until crisp and browned, about 5 minutes, and then drain on paper towels (reserve). Pour all but one tablespoon of the fat out of the cooker and into a bowl (reserve).
  2. Return the cooker and fat to medium-high heat. In batches, adding reserved bacon fat as needed, brown the beef, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes. Transfer the beef to a plate and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Add another tablespoon of bacon fat (or olive oil if you're out) and reduce the heat to medium. Add and cook the mushrooms, carrots, shallots, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and deglaze the pot by scrapping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Stir in broth and tomato paste and then return the beef and any accumulated juices to the pot.
  4. Lock the lid and bring the cooker to pressure over high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain pressure and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and quick release the pressure and then open the lid away from you to block any escaping steam. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat and vegetables to a serving bowl/plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
  5. Add in the reserved bacon, and let the cooking liquid stand for 5 minutes before skimming any fat from the surface. Meanwhile, work the butter and flour together into a smooth paste in a medium bowl. Whisk in about a cup of the defatted cooking liquid into the paste as you bring the rest of the cooking liquid to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat. Whisk your thinned paste into the boiling liquid and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and no trace of raw flour remains...  about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Either pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables to serve, or as I prefer, portion meat and vegetables over a bed of noodles and top with sauce individually.
Now, I don't particularly think that defatting a stock/cooking liquid, as laid out in step 5, is at all effective and didn't bother with it... I simply trimmed excess fat off of the bottom round before as I cut it up. However, if you are really concerned about your sauce being too fatty I'd really recommend a fat separator instead of this "cooling for 5 minutes and skimming" business. It costs $15 and it actually works, which is an oft overlooked feature... I would hesitate to ever make gravy without one. Cooling in the fridge to the point the fat starts to solidify also works really well, but is much more time consuming and thus more suited to stocks and the like in my humble opinion.

Regardless, despite all of the niggles I've brought up, I was really happy with how this came out. I really don't see how you could get the same depth of flavor and perfectly done vegetables and meat in anything less than 3 hours without a pressure cooker (see coq au vin). Being able to do it on a weeknight, in an hour, is the absolute best argument for owning one... and I don't really see why you should need another.