We’re all cooking under pressure these days, aren’t we? Energy and food prices are rocketing, we’re on the brink of another recession (some say we’re already in one) and the government is making a dog’s breakfast of the UK economy. Or a pig’s ear, if you prefer a different beastly metaphor. So it makes sense to cook with economy.
Pressure cookers are undergoing a resurgence. At a recent cookery class here at Mrs P’s, the lunchtime conversation revolved around their pros and cons and several people had already taken the plunge. Pressure cookers make good sense from the point of view of economy because they’re fast and fuel-efficient. You can pot-roast a chicken in 15 minutes, plus searing time. Compare that to heating your oven and roasting the bird.
The big decision is choosing between stovetop and electric models. Some of the latter, like the Ninja, are multi-use and double as yoghurt makers, rice cookers and air fryers. They can have a hefty price tag. The stovetop pressure cookers can be much cheaper and double as regular saucepans but a lot of people are scared of them. They remember the bad old days when the pans hissed like steam trains and could redecorate your kitchen ceiling in an explosive fashion if mishandled. Happily, modern versions are much quieter and less volatile.
Until recently I hadn’t owned a pressure cooker for half a lifetime but now I have two. My conversion came at the hands of cookbook writer and all-round lovely person Catherine Phipps. She’s been described by both Nigella Lawson and by Si King of the Hairy Bikers as the queen of pressure cooking and she really knows her stuff. She’s the author of two books on the subject and recently I watched her demonstrating the versatility of these pans at an evening hosted by friends in Norfolk.
An audience with the queen
I was so impressed by the huge variety of things she turned out in record time – it’s not all brown stews and stocks any more – that I asked her to do a demo for students at my cookery school. It’s on Saturday, November 19 between 11am and 3pm and costs £75. If you’d like to book, come hungry, as you will be sampling everything Catherine makes. Details here.
Catherine has generously allowed me to share a recipe from her new book, Modern Pressure Cookery (Quadrille 2022). It’s a brilliant book, the result of years of meticulous research and inspired recipe creation. It contains more than 200 recipes from many different cuisines, everything from soups, curries, pastas and pot roasts to desserts and cakes, even salads. I made a type of tagine other night using lamb neck fillets, a cheap cut that normally requires long, slow cooking. It took me about 20 minutes from start to finish and it was excellent.
The recipe I’m sharing today is a pressure cooker version of a recipe from Catherine’s earlier Chicken book and reduces the cooking time down from an hour to 20 minutes all in. It’s delicious, fresh and fragrant. We’ve eaten it twice in a week.
If you use boned chicken thighs you can reduce the first cooking time to 2 minutes.
You can replace the lettuce with grilled artichoke hearts. Add at the same time as the leeks.
In season, add asparagus or use it to replace the lettuce. Lay on top of the leeks.
Turn into a one pot: add 400g new or salad potatoes to the pot before the first high pressure cook.
Chicken with Lettuce, Leeks and Peas
1 tbsp olive oil
100g bacon lardons
2 little gem lettuces, halved
6-8 chicken thighs, skin on
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
75ml white wine
2 sprigs of tarragon (+ more to garnish)
100ml chicken stock
200g petit pois
2 leeks, cut into rounds
50ml single cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in your pressure cooker. When it’s hot, add the bacon lardons and the little gems, cut-side down. When the bacon has browned and the underside of the lettuces have taken on some colour, remove from the pressure cooker.
Season the chicken thighs on both sides then fry, skin-side down, until well browned and becoming crisp. Remove from the cooker and add the garlic. Saute for a minute, then add the white wine. Allow to bubble up and stir to thoroughly deglaze the cooker, then return the chicken to the pan, making sure you leave it skin-side up. Tuck in the sprigs of tarragon. Pour over the chicken stock. Close the lid and cook for 6 minutes at high pressure, then fast release.
Add the butter to the pan and pour in the peas. Place the leeks on top, followed by the little gem lettuces. Scatter in the bacon. Bring up to high pressure again, then immediately remove from the heat and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes before releasing any remaining pressure. Stir in the cream and leave to simmer for a further 2-3 minutes. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of finely chopped tarragon.