Pressure Cooker Book Review: Pressure Perfect by Lorna Sass

With sample recipe: Lamb Shanks with White Beans
Lorna Sass's Lamb Shanks with White Beans
Variations and transformations are really something that make this book stand out.

Already own this book?  Leave a comment, below, to share your opinion too!

 

Book Review: Pressure Perfect by Lorna Sass

Pressure Perfect -Two Hour Taste in Twenty Minutes Using Your Pressure Cooker
by Lorna Sass
January 2004, William-Morrow
368 Pages, 85 recipes with 185 variations

Purchase this book:
USA: amazon.com
UK: amazon.co.uk

Earlier this year, I presented my readers with a dilemma.  I had an unexpected stack of cookbooks and no time to review them all.  So I asked you to choose. Lorna Sass won hands-down.

Before receiving Lorna’s books this summer, I was only familiar with her pressure cooking blog. It was immediately clear that she earned the title of Pressure Cooker Queen with her numerable tomes on the subject. In fact, she was the original hip cook publishing pressure cooker recipes for Sesame Miso Cabbage and Barley Risotto in 1989 in her first pressure cooker tome Cooking Under Pressure (updated and re-released as a 20th Anniversary edition in 2009).

Last year, Lorna shared a recipe on this website from Pressure Perfect – Pressure Cooked Meatloaf with Cheddar Smashed Potatoes and Carrots. What I didn’t realize, until I had my very own a copy of her cookbook,  is that this recipe comes with five variations!  In the book, the variations listed include Frosted Meatloaf, Stuffed Meatloaf, Tex-Mex Meatloaf, Italian Meatloaf and Meatloaf Parmigiana.  And, as you will see in the chapter listing, the variations and transformations just keep coming.  Lorna’s Quick-pickled Beets in Horseradish dressing has five and her trademark risotto boasts ten variations.

The flexibility continues giving the cook a choice to use what they happen to have on-hand. Many recipes start with a cooking chart that includes cooking times based on the main ingredient.  The recipe for Delectable Meats in Gingered Plum Sauce offers nine options (they continue on the other side of the page pictured below).

Variations and transformations are really something that make this book stand out.  Although the official recipe count is 85, add in the variations this book contains over 270 recipes.  Add in the swappable main ingredients and… well, it’s alot of pressure cooker recipes!  The benefit of using variations, instead of reading the same basic recipe over and over,  is that the cook learns one technique that can change the recipe by just swapping a couple of ingredients.

The recipe chapters are distributed as follows:

  • Soups and Broths (13 recipes with 32 variations)
  • Meat, Poultry and Fish (27 recipes with 58 variations)
  • Rice, Risotto and Whole Grains (12 recipes with 28 variations)
  • Pasta (5 recipes with 8 variations)
  • Beans (9 recipes with 17 variations)
  • Vegetables (11 recipes with 25 variations)
  • Desserts (8 recipes with 17 variations)

I would call many of the recipes in this book updated classics.  The sample recipe, for example, has clear roots in the classic French Cassoulet. All of Lorna’s recipes use whole, fresh ingredients – no flavoring packets, bullion cubes or cans of condensed soup. The flavor is real, whole and without any cheats.

Our cooking philosophies diverge with the legumes.  She recommends that almost all of the beans be cooked from dry.  I’m a big advocate of overnight soaking or quick-soaking for the even cooking, shorter cooking times and more intact beans (see close-up of beans cooked from dry at the bottom of the page). More importantly, soaking beans removes the indigestible sugars responsible for causing gas.

There are also advantages to not soaking the beans – as Lorna shows in the recipe, below- like being able to cook them along with a roast, or shanks without the need to interrupt the pressure cooking and simplifying the steps to get a whole dinner to the table.

I asked Lorna, and she kindly agreed, if I could reprint a recipe from Pressure Perfect in its entirety to show you the care, detail, and flexibility she has put into this book. Enjoy!

Lorna Sass's Pressure Perfect Lamb and Bean pressure cooker recipe page

Lamb Shanks with White Beans

Serves 2-4.

For tenderizing beans and tough cuts like shanks, the pressure cooker can’t be beat. When you prepare this classic combination together, the beans absorb the lamb’s robust flavor and taste as if they’ve been simmering all day.

Lamb shanks vary in size from 1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds.  The size you buy will determine how many you can fit in your cooker (see Pressure Points).  If you plan to serve the shanks on the bone, allow one per person.  Otherwise, carve the meat from the two large shanks and divide it among four portions.  Look for the meatiest shanks you can find.  A crisp green salad provides a refreshing contrast to the mellow textures of this dish.

28 minutes high pressure plus natural pressure release

1 tablespoon oil
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onions or leeks
1/2 cup diced carrot
6 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large bay leaves
1 3/4 cups dried Great Northern or cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
2 large (3/3 to 1 1/2 pounds) or 4 small (about 1/2 pound each) lamb shanks, well trimmed
Freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
Sprigs of fresh rosemary, for garnish

Heat the oil in a 6-quart or larger cooker.  Add the onions and carrot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally for a minute or two.  Add the water, salt, bay leaves, beans and shanks.

Lock the lid in place.  Over high heat bring to high pressure.  Reduce heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook for 28 minutes. Turn off the heat.  Allow the pressure to come down naturally.  Remove the lid, tilting it away from you to allow steam to escape.

Discard any shriveled, uncooked beans that are floating on top or adhering to the shanks.  Test the shanks and beans for doneness: the meat should be fork-tender and falling away from the bone.  The beans should be uniformly soft. If the shanks and beans both require more cooking, return to high pressure for 3 to 5 more minutes and again let the pressure come down naturally.  If only the beans require more cooking, remove the shanks and return the beans to high pressure.  If only the shanks require more cooking, drain the beans and return the shanks to high pressure in the bean broth.

Transfer the shanks to a cutting board and season them well with salt and pepper.  Remove bay leaves.  Drain the beans and degrease the broth in a fat separator.  Return the beans and broth to the pressure cooker.  Season the beans with vinegar, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Reheat with the beans if necessary.  Carve the shanks if dividing the meat among persons; otherwise leave them whole.  Divide the beans among four large shallow bowls and set the meat on top.  Garnish each with a sprig of rosemary.

Variations

  • Cook-along Garlic: Cook beans with a whole head of garlic (discard loose papery skin).  Remove the garlic after cooking to intensify garlic flavor, squeeze out some of the flesh and stir it into the beans. Alternatively, reserve garlic for another use such as spreading on bread.
  • Cook-along Rutabaga (6-quart or larger cookers): Wrap 1 pound peeled rutabaga in heavy-duty aluminum foil.  After cooking, dice rutabaga and stir into beans.
  • Stir a few diced plum tomatoes into beans.
  • In addition to rosemary, season beans with lemon zest and 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley.

Transformations

  • Bean and Lamb Shank Casserole: Pour beans and 1 to 2 cups broth into a large, heatproof casserole.  Set shanks on top.  If mixture is not already hot, heat in microwave or 425-degree Fahrenheit oven.  Then set under broiler until beans are bubbly and shanks are lightly browned.
  • Osso Bucco[sic] with White Beans: Instead of lamb shanks, use 4 veal shanks (about 1 pound each) tied with kitchen twine.  Give beans a head start by cooking them for 8 minutes high pressure. Quick-release pressure and add shanks.  Return to high pressure and cook for 20 minutes plus natural release. Omit rosemary.  Garnish with a sprinkle of Gremolata made by chopping together 1 cup tightly packed fresh parsley laves, zest of 1 large lemon and 1 clove garlic.  Serves 4.
  • Shrimp with White Beans:  Omit lamb shanks.  Reduce water to 3 cups and add 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth.  After cooking beans, stir in 1 1/2 pounds peeled, medium shrimp that have been halved length-wise.  Simmer beans until shrimp are cooked, about 1 minute.  Instead of vinegar, stir in 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Instead of rosemary, stir in 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, and 1 teaspoon each lemon zest and chopped fresh thyme.  Garnish each portion with additional parsley.  Serves 4.

Pressure Points

  •  If using a 4-quart cooker, prepare 2 lamb shanks with 1 cup leeks, 1/2 cup carrot, 1 1/4 cups beans, 4 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
  • If using a 6-quart cooker, 4 small or 2 large shanks as per recipe.
  • If using an 8-quart cooker, prepare up to 6 small and 4 large lamb shanks.  Increase beans to 1 pound and water to 7 cups.
  • Using a natural pressure release prevents bean skins from splitting.  Though it is optional for lamb and veal shanks, a natural pressure release generally results in more tender meat.

Recipe and text republished with permission from the author, 
photos by hip pressure cooking with the exception of the book cover.

I had a particularly large 1 1/2 pound shank, so I sliced it to the bone before pressure cooking.  As predicted in the recipe, the beans were not fully cooked when I opened the pressure cooker.  I followed the recipe instructions and pressure cooked them for and extra 5 minutes with natural release and they were perfectly cooked.

Lorna Sass's Lamb Shanks with White Beans close-up photo

Note: When calculating the recipes per chapter, I counted what the book calls “Transformations” as variations.

See Also:

Reviewed by Laura Pazzaglia on

November 2012
Rating: 5

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