My relationship with my pressure cooker has been a rocky one. I blame the way we met.
Back more than a decade ago, I followed a macrobiotic diet, a way of eating that is mostly vegan and focused very much on the purported energies in foods and how those energies benefit — or not — our bodies. There’s a whole lot of brown rice and beans going on there, which is why the pressure cooker is a popular tool for those following the diet.
By trapping the steam produced during cooking, pressure cookers allow you to cook beyond the boiling point of 212 F, usually closer to 250 F. This means that foods that typically need long, slow simmers can be cooked quickly and with often surprisingly good results.
But I broke up with my pressure cooker after the bass incident. And I wish I could say this story was related to music. Some unusual dish I was supposed to prepare to ensure my good health involved pressure cooking an entire bass. Head. Fins. Scales. Guts. You name it. Into the pot it went, for at least several hours.
The result was a thick, porridge-like brown goo. That’s right — pressure cooked brown fish goo. It smelled as good as you imagine.
Which is why I set my pressure cooker aside for many years. But recently these simple pots have curried favor with all manner of chefs who appreciate them for their speed and ability to render tough cuts of meat deliciously tender. And my experiments — mostly with stews and briskets, but also some vegetable purees — have mostly been wonderful successes.
But the recipe that pushed me to fall back in love with the pressure cooked was dulce de leche. This South American treat is basically caramelized sweetened milk. It’s become a popular flavor in baked goods, ice creams and other sweets. But it’s rather laborious to make.