Saturday, November 01, 2008

Speeding up school night dinners

I don't know if it's a European thing, but the French are big on pressure cookers, or "cocottes-minute." I was surprised and even alarmed to find this utensile among my husband's rather limited cooking equipment when I first moved to France. To me, pressure cookers had always represented a mysterious, antiquated and vaguely dangerous way of cooking.

My grandmother (in the USA) has one, but I think it has mainly been used for canning or sterilizing -- I'm not really sure. I do know that actual meals never seem to come out of it. But in France, cooks make plenty of things with them, especially stews and soups.

I have gone through a few cocottes-minute (I'm not sure of the correct plural form, so corrections are welcome) in my years here. The one I had used for about ten years came to a sad end, as pressure cookers can, when I didn't put enough liquid in it. But ten years is enough time for technology to change, and I took it as an opportunity to finally buy the famous SEB Clipso model, which is easier to close than the traditional cookers.

As you can see if you click on the link, these are not cheap pots, but they do allow one to reduce cooking time on many recipes by about two-thirds. I have lived without one for about a year now, but am glad to get back to 10-minute soups and one-hour stews!

21 comments:

Kim - Easy French Food said...

I just wrote a little bit on the French love of the pressure cooker myself. It's the exact opposite of the crockpot cooking craze elsewhere. A strange thing when you think the French have a reputation of taking things food wise a bit more leisurely.

Loulou said...

I've never owned one and am slightly afraid of them, but my husband used to have one and thinks they're wonderful.
One day we'll break down and buy one and then you'll have to share your best recipes with me! :)

Betty C. said...

Kim -- Good observation; it is rather ironic isn't it? I have a crockpot here too, a British or Irish brand, but they are not common. I don't use it all that much either.

Loulou, you get a really nice little cookbook with SEB cocottes-minute, and it also explains the use so well that you can adapt a lot of recipes to it anyway.

spacedlaw said...

I grew up with a pressure cooker and it is indeed the very first cooking item I got for myself when moving ourof the house. It must be a French thing...

croquecamille said...

Years ago, when I was frantically looking for a furnished apartment in Moulins-sur-Allier, I found a landlord who was willing to equip the kitchen for me. He promised only the bare necessities, which included 12 wine glasses and a pressure cooker!

Alain said...

My mother used a great Swiss autocuiseur, the other French word for cocotte-minute, to cook great meals for our family of 6 in Reims in the early fifties. I think she was the only one at that time to have one in our town. The brand was "Duro", I believe, and she taught me how to use it. I was 13 year old then and already loved food and cooking it.
But strangely enough, when i became an adult and had my own kitchen, I never thought of buying one for myself when I lived in Paris or when I moved to the U.S. in 1970.
It's only 2 years ago, that I started to become a bit more lazy in the kitchen, and that I found that taking care of my roasts and stews in my enameled-iron cocottes Le Creuset, was sometimes a bit fastidious. So I asked my older son to buy me a Spanish cocotte-minute, a Fagor Commercial model, for Christmas.
I did not stop using it since and I am very happy with the results: I can cook a lamb stew with tomatoes and olives in 17 minutes, a chicken with thyme lemmon and artichokes in 11 minutes, a veal Marengo in 20 minutes, a rabbit provençale in 20 minutes , and a boeuf Bourguignon in 40 minutes.
I`m so happy with my cocotte-minute that I cannot even imagine how I could have lived and cooked without one for 45 years.
My next project, know that fall is upon us here in Chicago, is to do a complete ''choucroute garnie'' and a cassoulet in my CM.

Alain
French Virtual cafe

Cassoulet Cafe said...

You know, I noticed the pressure cooker obsession in France too! And then when we rented that gite earlier this year, it was equipped with one!
I only used it once, to do the potatoes for the raclette (had a raclette machine too)

Betty C. said...

Oh yes, cassoulet, they're perfect for raclette potatoes, especially if you use the steamer basket. They stay hot in there for about two hours and are ready to go whenever your raclette is!

Cassoulet Cafe said...

I didn't know they would stay hot for two hours, wow! Now that's a hot potato! :)

PS> My word verification is GOGRAV. Sounds like it must mean "go with gravy" . Maybe LBR will have a super funny definition for it when she pops by. :)

Ken Broadhurst said...

I've got two, count'em, two pressure cookers, one American and one French. And I never use either one of them. Maybe you all have inspired me to cook in them this winter.

eleonora said...

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eleonora said...

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Veronica said...

Hi Betty

It's true every French household seems to have a cocotte-minute! I had one in the UK but gave it away when we moved, and didn't really miss it. But I bought a cheapo SEB one on special offer in the supermarket a few years ago. I don't use it that much, but it's useful for:

- cooking pulses without needing to soak them first -- I can make a mean pasta e fagioli in 45 minutes or so. This is my most frequent use for it.
- rice pudding -- smooth and creamy in only 15 minutes!
- amazingly you can make a very acceptable risotto in it. 6 minutes -- it's not quite as good as the hand-stirred sort, but still very good.

Alison said...

My ex and I got a cocotte-minute for our wedding. I was slightly afraid of it, and mostly used it as a big pot rather than a pressure cooker. Something happened to that old aluminum Seb jobby, and my ex got me a new stainless steel Clipso model for Christmas (quel romantique!).

One day, I pressure-cooked lentils in the thing, as per the recipe on the lentil bag, and disaster struck. I think I went back to using it as a big pot after that.

Betty C. said...

Ali -- Thanks for the hilarious link! It was fun to go back to your blog "way back when..."

Terry B said...

Pressure cookers seem like an old-fashioned utensil here in the US, something our parents had. And there were the inevitable stories of mishaps with lids blowing off and ceilings ending up coated with stew ingredients. Apparently, though, they're big in Brazil too. When Brazilian blogger Patricia Scarpin did a guest post of Brazilian Rice and Beans on my blog, she used a pressure cooker. Since I didn't have a pressure cooker, I adjusted the recipe to soak the beans overnight and cook them longer. Reading your post, though, I may need to give in amd try one.

Jann said...

My mother used a pressure cooker many times~I was always afraid it would blow up in my face.........this is a neat cooker.....what have you cooked in it so far?

Betty C. said...

Jann -- You are such a faithful commenter, even after long absences! What a treat to have at least ten comments from you waiting this morning!

So far, in this one, I have mainly made soups and some longer-cooking vegetables. There is a steam basket, which is handy.

They are also great for making traditional French stews in 45 minutes rather than three hours -- but so far I haven't used this one for that yet. I used to use my old one for that type of dish, but I guess I got out of the habit. I'll probably pick that up again with winter coming on.

cher said...

I have a SEB pressure cooker, type B1, stainless steel for sale. Never used, brand new condition, any one interested. ASKING $100.00

cher said...

I have a SEB Pressure Cooker Type B1 for sell, it has never been used and is in brand new condition. I am asking 100.00 US for it, anyone interested.

Betty C. said...

cher, I'm publishing your comment but since there's no way to contact you through your Blogger profile, I don't think it will do you much good.