I bought my pressure cooker in the late 1980s for the sole purpose of canning. I had no idea how many easy, one pot meals a pressure cooker can make. It wasn't until the advent of a recent infomercial that the idea of using a pressure cooker for cooking even crossed my mind.
The old-style pressure cookers are large, heavy and came with a plethora of safety instructions that made using the thing feel more dangerous than carrying nitroglycerine in the trunk of a car going down a pothole-filled highway. Today's pressure cookers have been designed with both safety and efficiency in mind. There are controls that keep the cooker from becoming too pressurized, safety vents and steam release openings to allow excess steam to escape and to maintain safe, consistent pressure throughout the cooking process. Many models also have a quick pressure release valve. This allows pent-up steam to be released quickly, stopping the cooking process immediately. For cooking delicate meats such as poultry, the quick release feature is a must; overcooked chicken, for example, turns rubbery.
Pressure cookers work by increasing the temperature at which water boils. The superheated water in the enclosed space creates steam, which is trapped in the container. This process helps maintain the moisture in meat and also keeps the flavors of herbs and spices from volatilizing into the air as they do with other cooking methods. Pressure cookery is also energy efficient; once the device has reached the required pressure, the burner temperature can be reduced to maintain the internal temperature. If the burner is kept at too high a temperature, it creates excess pressure, the safety valves open and both steam and flavor are lost.
The following recipe creates nice, juicy, chicken and a flavorful gravy that isn't overly thick or salty. Because most packaged chicken has been injected with a saline solution, no salt needs to be added to the recipe. If you are using farm-raised chicken that has had nothing added to it, season the chicken pieces lightly with salt and pepper prior to browning.
Herbs of Provence are a blend of herbs consisting of rosemary, thyme and lavender. They impart a slightly floral flavor to the meat. The dry white wine keeps it from becoming too much like perfume. The entire meal has a very delicate flavor.
The chicken and gravy are best served with a platter of fluffy biscuits or sweet corn bread.
Chicken and Gravy
4 lb. bone-in chicken breasts, thighs or legs, or a 4 lb. whole chicken, cut up.
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsp. Herbs of Provence
3 garlic cloves, diced or 1 tsp. garlic powder or granules
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 c. dry white wine or unsweetened white grape juice (best if from a vintner - wine grapes are drier than table grapes)
3/4 c. chicken broth
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. lemon juice
Heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil in bottom of pressure cooker with the lid off. Place chicken pieces in the cooker, 1 layer at a time, and brown one side for 4 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken pieces and brown the other side for 4 minutes. Remove to platter. Browning may have to be done in 2 batches, depending on the size of the chicken pieces.
Drain off excess fat (the browning process should have rendered the subcutaneous fat from the chicken), leaving approximately 1 tbsp. in the pot. Add the diced onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and Herbs of Provence, heating until the flavors are released (you'll be able to smell the garlic and the herbs after about 30 seconds). Stir in the flour, and then add the wine to deglaze the pan, stirring to release any brown bits from the pan bottom. Add the broth, return the chicken to the cooker and cover the cooker, locking the top in place. Set the controls to reach High Pressure (on the old style cooker, place the control valve on 15 lbs.)
Once the cooker reaches the desired pressure, lower the heat and allow to cook for 25 minutes. Remove the cooker from heat immediately and use the quick release valve to stop the cooking process. Once the pressure has been released, unlock the top and open the cooker. Remove the chicken to a platter to rest while making the gravy.
Return the cooker to medium heat. Stir in butter and lemon juice. Cook at a simmer, stirring constantly, until gravy thickens.
Serves 6 to 8.
Wednesday: Pressure cooker barbecued beef