Age of steam: Mark Hix invests in a pressure cooker
It can save precious time in the kitchen and is the perfect piece of kit for conjuring up warming soups and stews.
We have just installed a high-tech Frima pressure cooker in the new restaurant in Belgravia which means that we can cut the cooking time of many of our slow-cooked dishes and stocks. To give you an idea, a normal veal stock would need six hours of simmering time and with this brilliant contraption, it now takes just three hours. It can cook overnight and turn itself off – when we rock up for work in the morning all the hard work is done!
I've recently replaced my home pressure cooker with a Fissler. It's not a Frima, of course, but it cuts down the cooking time for all sorts of things that normally simmer away on the back of the stove for hours just creating steam. And it has many uses, from making gravy to cooking vegetables such as beetroot – which otherwise take forever to cook. It's become an essential part of my home kitchen saucepan collection.
Braised oxtail with celery
Oxtail can take anything from 1-2 hours to cook – in a pressure cooker, however, it takes only about one hour, and you'll find there are no fumes in your house, either.
1.5 kg oxtail, cut into 2-3cm thick pieces and trimmed of any excess fat
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp fresh thyme leaves
80g butter, plus more for the carrots
70g flour, plus a little extra for dusting
2tsp tomato purée
200ml red wine
3 litres beef stock or a couple of good-quality stock cubes, dissolved in 2 litres of hot water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large or 2 small heads of celery
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Season the pieces of oxtail and lightly dust them with flour. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turning them halfway through to make sure they're nicely coloured on both sides. Meanwhile, heat 60g of the butter in the pressure cooker pan and gently cook the onion, garlic and thyme for 3-4 minutes until soft, stirring every so often. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir well. Gradually add in the red wine and stock, stirring well to avoid lumps forming, and bring to the boil. Add the pieces of oxtail then close and secure the pressure cooker lid.
Cook on the lowest heat for 45 minutes then remove from the heat and release the pressure and remove the lid. Check the pieces of oxtail. The meat should be tender and easily removed from the bone; if not, replace the lid and cook for another 15 minutes or so.
If you haven't got a pressure cooker, allow up to 2 hours to cook the oxtail in a covered pan on a low heat preferably with a simmering plate. Check after one and half hours to see if it's tender. Remove the oxtail pieces and put to one side.
Skim the fat from the sauce in the pressure cooker with a ladle (if the sauce is not thick enough, drain it off into another pan and simmer until it thickens, skimming every so often).
Meanwhile, remove any excess root from the celery, but not too much as you want it to remain intact, then trim it to about 8-9cm in length and keep the trimmings for a stock or soup (see the following oxtail broth recipe). If the outer stems are stringy, then carefully peel them. Cut the celery into 4 lengths and place in the oxtail sauce. Put the lid back on the pressure cooker and close it and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove the celery and keep warm, return the pieces of oxtail to the pressure cooker and reheat for 4-5 minutes. Spoon the oxtail and sauce into bowls with the celery. Reserve any extra sauce for the soup below.
Oxtail broth with winter pulses
If you are making the braised oxtail above, then it makes sense to cook a little extra and use the skinny tail pieces for a hearty soup. You can buy packets of mixed, quick-cooking, small, dried pulses from good supermarkets these days which is perfect for soups like this. Some don't even need soaking, so check the packet.
A good knob of butter
1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
A few sticks of celery from the recipe above, cut into rough cm dice
1 small carrot, trimmed, peeled and cut into rough cm dice
A couple of sprigs of thyme
60g small dried pulses, soaked for 2-3 hours in cold water
The remaining sauce from the oxtail plus extra beef stock to make it up to about 1.5ltrs
The remaining small ends of oxtail removed from the bone
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onion, celery, carrot and thyme for 2-3 minutes, without colouring, until it softens.
Add the remaining sauce and stock, bring to the boil, add the pulses and simmer very gently for about 30 minutes or until the pulses are tender. Add the pieces of oxtail, season and simmer for a couple of minutes, then serve.
Quick chicken stock
Makes a couple of litres
A pressure cooker is perfect for making great quick stocks and by simply blanching the bones first you don't need to go to all the trouble of laboriously clarifying the stock with egg whites and minced chicken.
2 chicken thighs, skinned if making the soup below
A couple of raw chicken carcasses, chopped into 4 or 5 pieces
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
2-3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped and washed
1 small leek, roughly chopped and washed
10 black peppercorns
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 chicken stock cube
Put the chicken thighs and bones in the pressure cooking pan without the lid, cover with cold water, bring to the boil then drain and rinse with cold water. Return to the pressure cooker pan with the rest of the ingredients and add 2.5 litres of water. Bring to a simmer, close and secure the pressure cooker lid and cook on a low temperature for 30 minutes. Remove from the pressure cooker and strain through a fine-meshed sieve, reserving the thighs if using and making the consommé below. The stock should have a nice strong flavour; if not, just simmer for a further 10-15 minutes until it strengthens and re-season if necessary.
This is a classic consommé that I learnt in my college days. At home, no one can really be bothered to go to the trouble of making a clear soup, but if you use the simple method in the recipe above you'll find it considerably easier. Julienne is a culinary term for finely-shredding vegetables into matchstick-like pieces which you can do on a mandolin or by cutting with a very sharp knife.
The stock from above
1 medium carrot, peeled, trimmed and cut into 3cm-long matchstick strips
A couple of sticks of celery, peeled if necessary and cut into 3cm-long matchstick strips
1 small or half a leek cut into 3cm-long matchstick strips and washed
The two chicken thighs from above, finely shredded
Bring the stock to the boil, add the vegetables and simmer for a minute or so until just cooked, then add the chicken and serve.
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