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John Whiting

Pressure cooking tough cuts of meat

5 posts in this topic

Shaun, welcome back.

Have you tried pressure-cooker braising tough cuts of meat, and do you have an opinion on the subject?


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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I have used a pressure cooker for softening tough joints of meat and found it worked fine - especially with gelatinous cuts like shin or feet. I rarely use a pressure cooker now though as I find the long slow cooking at moderate to low temperature works better.

Of course I spend all day in the kitchen so the occasional poking and stirring to check moisture levels presents no burden. Pressure cooking seems to have become less common now other than for jams and marmalade. Possibly because people are a bit intimidated by tough joints of meat anyway. Also because it represents yet another gadget to store and dust if it isn't to be used on a regular basis - most wedding present lists will have a microwave rather than a pressure cooker. Not sure what that may say about things

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. . . most wedding present lists will have a microwave rather than a pressure cooker.

Unless the bride has been reading Heston Blumenthal. :biggrin:


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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What I've learned about this is that the tough cuts of meat must be of the best quality you can find. It must be able to survive the heat required to break down collagen, about 210 degrees for an hour, while retaining flavor. You also need fine intermuscle marbeling in the meat because the fat transports flavor throughout the cut. Think about it. The fat becomes more liquid under heat which permits the cooking liquor to enter the meat. It won't get into the muscle because it seizes up until the collagen breaks down. That is why I let meat cook for an hour after it is fork tender.

I don't use a pressure cooker and I've never eaten a well prepared cut of meat that was cooked in one. This is more due to the fact that I have no room to keep the instrument in my apartment kitchen than having an animus against them. I think also there is a belief that one can retrieve a tough cut by pressure cooking or long slow cooking in a vessel just large enough to hold it a la Escoffier. In my days of cuisine sans argent (which seems to be persist) and American markets with only the horrid "select" grade beef on offer, I threw a lot of method at tough cuts. After a long stretch of applying fine technique to these tasteless tough viands, I arrived at the conclusion that a chuck roast (for example) must be well marbeled and in the USDA choice grade before one's effort is rewarded.

(If I knew how include an image from my picture files here, you would see an image of a couple of chuck roasts approximately 2-3 inches thick with well distributed marbling of fat.)

This beef was well browned in the pot. It was removed and a mirepoix was well browned in the pot. A cup of wine was added, the meat returned to the pot, and the wine was reduced. Beef stock was added with a couple of bay leaves, a bit of thyme, coarse pepper, and garlic cloves split in half. The pot was lidded over a sheet of foil to ensure a good seal and cooked at 250-300 degrees until the meat when tested with a carving fork would fall off the fork. At this point I ladeled out enough stock to defat and turn into a sauce. I continued cooking for an hour longer because I wanted the beef, now fairly tender, to take up some of the flavor in the stock. While the beef was cooking, I threw in some root veges, potato chunks, carrots, and little onions to cook with the meat while I concentrated on the defatted stock which was spiked with some wine and reduced to a thin consistency. I would have liked to taken some of the fat and laced the meat with it in a pan in the oven to give it a nice glaze but I was pressed for time.

At present, I am not convinced that the pressure cooker would do more than save a little time in the preparation of beef dishes. It might answer to cooking pork in the US which can still be flavorful although pork has mostly been destroyed thanks to the effort to reduce its fat content and market it as "the other white meat". The only entree level pork I will still bother with are rib chops but I can't get them anymore because the restaurants have cornered the market on rib chops. A nice fatty pork butt cut might respond well to pressure cooking because it has the flavor to perhaps stand up to the violence of high pressure and heat, but I am waxing theoretical here.

I think the adage about trying to make a silk purse from a sow's ear applies in cooking. Indeed I have tried but I don't think that it worth the effort to attempt good dishes from viands that should be ground into casings for bangers and mash.

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One advantage of a (large) pressure cooker -- or at least I consider it to be an advantage -- is the possibility of steam-braising a large fowl or joint on a rack with a very small quantity of liquid. It's more or less like a steam oven, for which one can pay well into four figures.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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