Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Alton Brown's Pressure Cooker Chili Revisited

Alton Brown's Pressure Cooker Chili

While I posted about this recipe a few years ago... just a couple of weeks after we purchased our pressure cooker... I'm going to post about it again as a kind of pressure cooker retrospective. At the time of that first post I was both confused and excited by our new kitchen gadget, but in reality not a whole lot has changed since my original assessment. I'm not really sure whether I should be pleased that my instincts were good, or disturbed that I'm not evolving as much as I did when this blog first started. Probably a little of both. Still, I think a couple of years of owning a pressure cooker has added a little perspective.

What I love both about this recipe (and pressure cooking in general) is the ability to decide to make a stew on a whim for lunch or dinner that day. This past weekend I woke up on Saturday with a freezer empty of easy options and no leftovers to munch on. With Anna out of town, this was the perfect opportunity to cook up some big meaty stew "project" to feed myself through mid week... and I sat down with my cookbooks, cooking magazines, and the internet to write up a grocery list to do just that... but then it occurred to me that while sitting around watching the O's (Whoohoo!) during a four hour braise would be an enjoyable afternoon, I'd still need to grab a sandwich from somewhere for lunch. Enter the pressure cooker and this exceptionally simple recipe from Alton Brown.

Before

All you need is three pounds of stew meat, a jar of salsa, tortilla chips, chipotles en adobo, chile powder, cumin... and a bottle of beer. Not too hard to come by. Now, I tend not to be all that interested in short cuts for convenience that come at the expense of flavor development, but the speed here mainly comes from the pressure cooker, and I doubt you'd find too many people who'd argue against this being a fully flavored chili. I suppose instead of jarred salsa you could take it to another level by being creative... and, indeed, I plan to do something like this with tomatillos for a Chile Verde variation... but I think it's pretty great as is, especially if you have a favorite brand of salsa whose flavor profile you enjoy. That latter point is pretty important, as with so few other ingredients that salsa is going to play a key role in the final flavor of the chili.

After

The only step here that takes any time at all is browning the stew meat in multiple batches... after that it's the 5-10 minutes it takes to get up to pressure and then about 25 minutes of cooking. Note: several pressure cooking authorities (like Lorna Sass) say to never use "quick pressure release" when cooking meat as that quick pressure drop allegedly squeezes the moisture out of the meat leaving it dry and tough. Not sure if that it true or not, but instead of Alton's instructions I cooked at high pressure for 18 minutes (instead of 25) and then let it release pressure naturally... which takes maybe another 10 minutes... and it the meat was perfectly tender and not at all dry.

So in the end I still got myself a full flavored stew with tons of leftovers but was able to get it on the table in less than an hour. Pretty cool. I'll never consider a pressure cooker an "essential" kitchen device, but it's pretty damn handy to have. For the most part I use the pressure cooker for non-blog worthy things, like beans or mashed potatoes... and I should probably be using it to make stock... but it's also great to know that if I am in the mood for a braise I can just stop at the store on the way home on a weeknight and not end up eating at midnight.