- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about professional chefs is that, even though we may handle knives more quickly than the average human, we don’t take shortcuts.

Well, yes, good chefs don’t cheat on important things, like making stock or pastry or cutting up ingredients precisely. But that doesn’t mean we don’t take honest shortcuts. Just think of the food processor, for example, which was originally invented in France as a tool for busy chefs.

One of my favorite shortcut appliances is the pressure cooker. And, as sure as I am of what a great appliance it is, I’m also certain that the very mention of those two words will strike anxiety into many home cooks. And understandably so.

Decades ago, pressure cookers could be balky, unreliable, sometimes scary devices. I remember my mother’s old pressure cooker rattling on the stovetop, hissing and sending out streams of steam like it was about to explode. Everyone, it seems, has heard tales of how Mom’s or Grandma’s pressure cooker blew its lid and delivered dinner straight to the kitchen ceiling.

Stories like that may endure, but they just aren’t true anymore.

Modern pressure cookers are built to exacting standards and incorporate technology that not only makes them easy to use but also helps to ensure accurate heating, pressure, timing and safety. Many models are electric, meaning you don’t have to worry about adjusting and carefully watching the heat beneath them. Virtually all include dials and gauges that show you exactly what pressure level you’re cooking at, and many include timers. So-called “quick-release” valves give added flexibility, letting you not only drop the pressure quickly when a recipe requires it but also helping to make sure that every last wisp of pressurized steam has left the pot before you remove the lid.

Add such advantages to the enduring qualities of pressure-cooking and you have an unbeatable appliance. High pressure intensifies and speeds up cooking, tenderizing hard or tough ingredients and driving seasonings deep inside them in moments rather than hours. Pressure cookers are especially wonderful for soups and stews, and for braising flavorful but chewy cuts of meat.

You’ll see what I mean when you try my recipe for barbecued pulled pork. After you briefly brown the meat on the stovetop, it cooks in the pressure cooker for under half an hour; but the results are as flavorful and tender as pulled pork cooked slowly in a barbecue pit.

To enjoy the meat in traditional style, heap it onto soft sandwich rolls and top with coleslaw. Your family and friends will think you’ve been tending a hot fire for hours.


Serves 4

1-1/2 pounds (750 g) pork butt, cut across the grain into slices 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick


Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons commercial barbecue rub spice mix

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup (250 ml) good quality canned chicken broth

1/2 cup (125 ml) good quality bottled barbecue sauce

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, lightly season the pork slices on both sides with salt and pepper, then sprinkle evenly on both sides with the barbecue rub mix.

Add the olive oil to the skillet. As soon as it is hot and fragrant, add the pork slices and cook them, turning regularly, until evenly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer the pork to a pressure cooker and add the chicken broth. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, secure the pressure cooker lid and bring the pressure to high. When high pressure has been reached, reduce the heat to low and set a timer for 12 minutes.

When the time is up, turn off the heat and let the pressure return to normal on its own, without using a quick-release valve. When the pressure has returned to normal, use the quick-release valve to make sure all the pressure has been released. Then, carefully remove the lid, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Using a knife and fork, shred the meat inside the pressure cooker. Stir in the barbecue sauce.

Secure the lid on the pressure cooker again. Over high heat, bring the pressure cooker back to high pressure. Reduce the heat to low and set a timer for 10 minutes.

As soon as the timer goes off, use the quick-release valve, following manufacturer’s instructions, to release the pressure. With a fork, stir together the meat and sauce, shredding it more if you wish. Serve immediately.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays on the Food Network. Also, his latest cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy,” is now available in bookstores.

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