The pressure is on: Pressure-cooked beans

This story is getting a little old. Every time I go and try out an idea I’ve picked up from Ideas in Food, the results are so good, so much better than the alternatives, that I wonder why I ever bothered with any other approach.

The latest episode in this series is dried beans. As I said before, I’ve spent a lot of time working on my technique for cooking dried beans: pre-soaking or not, when to salt, deionized or tap water, adding baking soda… But all of that tweaking became obsolete this weekend, as I finally took my new pressure cooker out for its first test run.

Pressure cookers are basically sealed cooking pots (with a few safety features). As the liquid inside them vaporizes, the pressure builds up and, consequently, the boiling point of the liquid rises. (The boiling point of any liquid is dependent on pressure, which is why you have to make adjustments to, for example, home canning procedures if you’re working at any significant altitude.)

I came across Alex and Aki’s approach to pressure-cooked beans on my friend John’s blog, where they used it for goose cassoulet. As usual, I decided to keep things simple to try out the technique, and just did some pinto beans with onion and a little lard for flavour. I put them in the pot, covered them with water, and cooked them on low pressure for 5 minutes. Then, after the cooker had depressurized naturally, I drained and rinsed them, then returned them to the pot with a diced onion and spoonful of lard, and covered everything with more water. I cooked it at high pressure for 25 minutes, again letting the pressure fall naturally.

Despite my notoriously hard tap water, the pressure-cooked beans came out creamier and more tender than any beans I’ve ever made before, apart from some of the baked beans that I’ve cooked for upwards of 6 hours in the oven. I can’t imagine I will cook dried beans in any other way ever again. Plus, I’m looking forward to seeing what else this new pressure cooker can do.

Do you have a pressure cooker? What do you use it for?

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9 Responses to “The pressure is on: Pressure-cooked beans”

  1. I think I need to get me a pressure cooker!

  2. It’s time to raid my mom’s kitchen. Pressure cooker, old fashioned juicer… who knew?!

  3. I love making ribs in mine – 15 minutes and they are fall off the bone soft!

  4. Grami Knight would chuckle and tell you that she always knew that the best way to make beans is with the pressure cooker… I should get you her recipe for beans with molasses – yum!!

  5. I don’t get the point of low pressure and high pressure. My pressure cooker has only one valve (plus the security one).
    When the pressure rise in the pot, a pin rises up and block the open lever so that you cannot accidentally open the cooker when under pressure. But there is one automatic setting only: when the valve whistle, you must turn the the burner to the minimum and from that moment you start counting the cooking time.
    So, I guess you pressure cooker is more advanced than mine and I wonder how to get the same results with mine.

  6. Matthew Kayahara April 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks, Patricia! I’m looking forward to cooking some collagen-rich meats in mine soon.

  7. Matthew Kayahara April 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Sara, I’d love to see that recipe for beans with molasses!

  8. Matthew Kayahara April 19, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Isaia, you’re right: some pressure cookers have only one pressure setting. I suspect that the reason for going with low pressure on the first cook with these beans is to help them maintain their shape, but I’m not completely sure. If I were you, I’d try it out anyway, cooking on high pressure both times, and see what happens. After all, beans are pretty cheap to experiment with!

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