Mark Hix goes back to the future, preparing classic dishes with the time-saving help of a pressure cooker

Almost ten years ago we had a fire in The Ivy kitchens. Instead of being a total disaster it gave us an opportunity to buy some quality equipment to replace what we'd lost.

Almost ten years ago we had a fire in The Ivy kitchens. Instead of being a total disaster it gave us an opportunity to buy some quality equipment to replace what we'd lost.

One of the pieces of kit we installed was a Swiss industrial pressurised bratt pan. In layman's terms it's a bloody big pressure cooker that costs about as much as a BMW. Making stocks and braising meat could be done in less than half the normal cooking time with this great machine. And it was so sophisticated it turned itself off when all the chefs had gone home and the contents were cooked. All we had to do was open the lid in the morning. Our magnificent piece of Swiss technology also made crystal clear stocks because the contents didn't boil and turn cloudy.

When pressure cooking has so much going for it, you'd think it would become the time-saving way forward in the home as well as restaurants. Instead it has an old-fashioned ring to it. I remember my grandmother's heavy aluminum thing sitting on the floor in the cupboard at the time when every household probably had one, but now pressure cookers have been replaced with griddle pans and woks. I've only just got round to buying one for myself. I wasn't up to speed with the modern models but now I'm the proud owner of a matt black number. It cost 50 quid - a snip compared to its big Swiss brother at The Ivy.

Since then I've been experimenting at home with some of my favourite slow-cooked cuts like ham hocks, salt beef and oxtail. Sussex Pond pudding would take two hours instead of four. I just can't think why something that speeds up cooking isn't considered essential for modern life in every kitchen.

Now for the science part: under normal atmospheric conditions water boils at 100°C - I'm sure you already knew that. The higher you go, the lower the atmospheric pressure, which in turn lowers the boiling point of water. If you raise the pressure (in a pan that traps the steam that escapes from boiling water, thus increasing the pressure on the liquid) the boiling point rises. So food cooked in a pressure cooker can be kept below boiling point, but because the cooking temperature is higher than usual the food cooks much faster. For example, an increase of 20°c allows food to cook 3-4 times quicker, retaining freshness and nutritional values. Domestic pressure cookers cook at about 111-117°C by increasing the steam pressure inside the cooker to 8-12lbs above atmospheric pressure.

Quick demi glace

Makes about 2-3 litres

Big kitchens make this jus, as it's sometimes called, in massive quantities and in vessels similar to the expensive Swiss one we have at The Ivy. It's then a base for sauces, gravies, or for braising meat, such as the oxtail below. For a professional gravy or jus at home, you can easily make more manageable quantities in a domestic pressure cooker. It's the kind of job that makes a pressure cooker earn its keep. If you don't have one it takes more than twice as long in a normal stock pot.

1kg chicken or beef bones, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
1 small leek, roughly chopped and washed
1/2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp flour
2-3 litres beef stock or 3 stock cubes, dissolved in that amount of hot water, depending on the size of your pressure cooker
10 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme

Pre-heat the oven to 220º/Gas mark 7. Mix the bones with the vegetables and roast them in a tray in the oven for 30-40 minutes, stirring every so often until nicely coloured. Stir in the tomato purée, dust with the flour then return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Remove and transfer them to the pressure cooker pan. Add about 1/2 litre of the stock to the roasting tray and stir on a low heat for about 5 minutes to remove any residue from the bottom of the tray.

Add that stock to the pressure cooker on a low heat and stir well then gradually add the rest of the stock and keep stirring to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil. Add the thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns. Put the lid on your pressure cooker, close and secure it and cook on the lowest heat for 1 hour.

Release the pressure until the steam stops and remove the lid. Strain the sauce through a fine-meshed sieve, skim off any fat and leave to cool. If you want your sauce a little thicker you can simmer it for longer to reduce, or store it and if necessary thicken it later when you're ready to use it.

Freeze in containers in useable amounts or in ice cube trays for small individual portions. You can then put the cubes into a freezer bag once they are frozen.

If you don't have a pressure cooker follow the recipe but allow up to 3 hours simmering in a pan, and top it up with water if necessary.

Braised oxtail with carrots

Serves 4

I love oxtail braised on the bone. I've had versions where the meat has been flaked from the bone after cooking then wrapped in caul fat and braised again. It just doesn't work for me - what's the point when you could be picking the meat off the bone? Oxtail sounds wintery, but as well as going with mashed root vegetables, it's good in spring and summer with seasonal vegetables like peas, broad beans and asparagus. Butchers normally have oxtail cut into pieces. If possible avoid the tail bits or cook them with the rest and make them into a soup with the extra sauce.

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
60g butter, plus more for the carrots
50g flour, plus a little extra for dusting
2tsp tomato purée
100ml red wine
2 litres beef stock or a couple of good quality stock cubes, dissolved in 2 litres of hot water
250g small carrots, such as Chantenay, cleaned and trimmed
1/2 tbsp fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220º/Gas mark 7. Season the pieces of oxtail and lightly dust them with flour. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turning them half way through to make sure they're nicely coloured on both sides. Meanwhile heat the 60g 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 1 hour then remove from the heat and release the pressure f 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 3 hours to cook the oxtail in a covered pan on a low heat preferably with a simmering plate. Check after 2 hours to see if it's tender.

Skim the fat from the sauce with a ladle and if the sauce is not thick enough, drain it off into another pan and simmer until it thickens, skimming every so often, then pour back over the meat.

Meanwhile cook the carrots in another pan, just covered with water. Add salt and pepper and a teaspoon of sugar and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender. Drain and mix with butter and parsley.

Serve the carrots spooned over the oxtail with some buttery mashed potato on the side.

Fillet of red mullet with chick peas and coriander

Serves 4

Red mullet is one of those delicate, pretty little fish that has a fairly robust flavour and will cope with ingredients like chilli, ginger and coriander. Chick peas can be a pain to cook from dried, and there are some rogue ones on the market that seem to take hours to cook because they are so dry. The secret, providing you have good quality chick peas (the Spanish brand Formesina from Brindisa is very good), is to soak them in plenty of cold water for 24 hours at least and to add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to soften them during cooking. If you're cooking large quantities, a pressure cooking is a real boon.

4 red mullet fillets, weighing 130-140g, boned and scaled
1tbsp plain flour
150g chick peas, soaked for 24 hours
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
A small piece of root ginger, scraped and finely chopped or grated
1 tsp ground cumin
3tbsp olive oil, plus some extra for frying the red mullet
1tsp tomato purée
250ml vegetable stock
2tbsp chopped coriander leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drain and wash the soaked chick peas, put them in the pressure cooker and cover well with water. Add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and a couple of teaspoons of salt. Secure the lid and cook for 45 minutes. If you aren't using a pressure cooker they will take at least 2 1/2 hours simmering away in a normal pan.

Meanwhile gently cook the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger with the cumin in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add the tomato purée, cooked chick peas and vegetable stock, bring to the boil, season and simmer with a lid on for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, add the coriander and simmer for another 2-3 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Season the red mullet fillets and lightly flour them, shaking off the excess flour. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan and fry the fillets, skin-side down for 2 minutes on each side.

The chick peas can be served hot, or room temperature. Spoon them on to plates and serve the red mullet on top.

Jam roly poly

Serves 4-6

Originally known as suety Jack in the Potteries, this pudding can be boiled, steamed or baked. You can use any jam but it should be sturdy and thick enough to hold up to the steaming. Using a normal pan or steamer, allow 1 1/2 hours and wrap it loosely in a cloth, tied at each end. If you would rather bake the roly poly, put it on a greased baking tray and bake it at 220°C/Gas mark 7 for 40 minutes.

150g self raising flour
A pinch of salt
75g shredded beef suet (vegetarian if you prefer)
100-150ml cold water
300g thick jam, plus extra to dollop on top

Mix the flour, salt and suet together and mix in enough water to make a firm dough. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured table to about 15cm square. Spread thickly with the jam then roll up tightly. Wrap loosely in cling film then in foil. Most pressure cookers come with a little removable compartment for vegetables, turn it upside down, or use a heat proof dish. Put about 3-4cm water in the pressure cooker and sit the roly poly on top. Secure the lid, bring up to pressure and cook for 30 minutes.

Unwrap the roly poly and slice thickly and serve with extra jam if you like plus thick custard or double cream.