~ Under Pressure: Ham, Cabbage and Potato Soup ~
After months of reading two of my Facebook foodie friends (Melissa Trainer and Teresa Gottier) extoll the virtues of their pressure cookers, I finally gave in. I bought one. I didn't want one, but I bought one anyway. After consulting with both friends, I decided on the kind that I believe every virgin pressure cooker owner, or, anyone who has ever witnessed one explode should buy: An electric model that can be plugged in out in the garage or down in the root cellar (and run away from as an added precaution). It arrived Wednesday. Here's why I don't trust pressure cookers:
My Aunt Mary (my father's sister) and her husband Art lived in Levittown, PA. It was the 1960's. Levittown was one of America's first, "tract house" planned communities (curved streets, sidewalks, front and back yards with trees, playgrounds, schools, by-laws, etc.). It was particularly appealing to veterans, because they could buy a home with no down payment. All of the moderately-priced ranch houses had kitchens with electric cooktops and wall ovens.
More and more American women were working women, and, back then, the pressure cooker was the time-saving, trendy darling of the busy woman's kitchen. Out of 2 sisters and 4 sisters-in-law, Aunt Mary was the only one who used a pressure cooker, and, her specialty was stuffed cabbage (which were pretty good). We were ALL there, 20-25 of us, for a holiday. It was either Memorial Day, the 4th of July or Labor Day, because there were flags everywhere. It was 1960. My dad just bought a brand new, white, Dodge Dart and this was its maiden voyage. Our family of four had wings. I was 5.
I wasn't witness to the explosion. My Auntie Annie came running out into the yard and quickly "herded" a few women away from their cocktails and into the kitchen. I followed. Aunt Mary was in tears. Who wouldn't be. Cabbage shrapnel was everywhere. While 4-5 women made short work of getting the incident under control, there was no mistaking the smug "now you know why I don't own a pressure cooker" look I got from my mom. You see, my mother had predicted this.
Fast forward to today. Meet the beast I chose. It is very well built and I have read the instruction manual completely. It seems pretty straightforward. I am hoping to fall in love with my newest countertop appliance, and...
... it's locked, loaded and ready for launch!
Every time my mother had a meaty ham bone in her hand, she made: ham, cabbage and potato soup. A brothy concoction of ham, carrots, celery, onions and potatoes seasoned with nothing other than salt and pepper. I grew up loving cabbage and I adored this meal. We are Russian Orthodox (Eastern European). Cabbage juice runs through our veins -- Russian kids like cabbage. Period. I think of this meal as the "plain cousin" to Irish corned beef and cabbage. I was planning on making this soup "her way", on the the stovetop today, then decided it would be a good recipe to get me familiar with my new appliance and pressure cooking in general.
My 1st PC recipe: The trauma of pressure cooking without adequate instructions!
This is nobody's recipe. This is being blogged live by the seat of my pants. It is either going to work or not. I won't lie, once I got past the "how to operate" the pressure cooker instructions of the manual, I looked at the recipes in "the booklet", similar ones on the internet, and, in a couple pressure cooker cookbooks too. I have no idea what I am doing and I know I can do better than these cryptic pieces of "3-5 easy steps and no photo" rubbish. They make me want to write a pressure cooker cookbook (with step-by-step directions and photos for fearful idiots like me).
~ Step 1. Place the trivet (the little rack) in the bottom of the cooking pot (the bowl insert) of the pressure cooker. The trivet keeps heavy meat from sticking to the bottom (or that's what I think it does). Add:
2 meaty smoked ham shanks, about 2 1/2 pounds total
1 quart chicken stock
1 quart water
~ Step 2. Secure lid and cook shanks on high heat for 20 minutes. After the PC signals (beeps) the end, the machine will switch to "keep warm" mode. For this recipe, immediately turn the pressure limit valve, in order to quick release the pressure from the machine. Use a pair of tongs or fork to easily turn this "free floating" gismo as there will be a "whoosh" of hot steam. This will take about 1 minute.
Note: Natural release means to wait for the machine to cool down on its own about 20-30 minutes. Always follow the recipe on these two very specific instructions.
~ Step 3. Using a large slotted spoon, remove the shanks from the broth. Pull the meat away from the bones and chop it into bite-sized pieces. You will have about 2 cups of meat. Place it in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and set aside.
Now it's time to add the veggies!
Note: Never exceed the maximum capacity of the pressure cooker. The manual also says to have at least 1/2 cup of liquid in the PC at all times. I have 6 cups of liquid and a 16 cup capacity. I should be ok.
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
~ Step 6. Core and coarsely chop 1 medium head of green cabbage. Add 4 cups to the pot.
~Steps 7, 8, 9 & 10. Add 2 cups of coarsely chopped onion, 1 cup coarsely chopped celery, 2 cups coarsely chopped carrot and 4 cups chunked gold potatoes to the broth in the pot.
Secure lid & cook on high for 8 minutes. Vegetables will be tender.
I couldn't be happier with how this recipe turned out. I will make it in the pressure cooker from this day forward. The vegetables were all perfectly cooked, just through, not mushy. The flavors were equal to that of my mom's stovetop version. If I could offer one sentence of advice, "always error on the side of less pressure cooking time vs more". Unlike cooking on the stovetop, once the PC lid is locked and loaded, you cannot physically keep an eye on texture. You can always pressure cook the food an extra 1-2 minutes, but, if you've overcooked it to mush there is no turning back the clock. I've decided to keep a notepad of documented cooking times for everything I cook stored inside my PC, and, I can't wait to share my recipes with you!
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 6-quart pressure cooker; large slotted spoon; plastic wrap; soup ladle
Cook's Note: This soup does not freeze well, but, no worries. It keeps 5-6 days in the refrigerator and reheats perfectly in the microwave (I recommend the microwave because it maintains the texture of the vegetables)!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)