Monday, February 03, 2020

The View from My Cousin's Deck in Seattle

(Click photo to enlarge.)

Pressure Cooker Experience

I would have liked to call this post Pressure Cooker Learning Experience, but I’m not sure that I have achieved full understanding yet. On Super Bowl Sunday, henceforth to be known in my apartment as Green Split Pea Souper Sunday, I set out to cook a pot of green split peas, more or less as I had done the previous week, except with more water and except that I had cooked yellow split peas the week before.

On that occasion, I covered two cups of yellow split peas, plus two tablespoons of olive oil, with about half an inch of water, cooked for 12 minutes, and then did a quick release of pressure by turning the pressure cooker’s operating valve to the steam setting. Releasing pressure this way takes just a minute or so. The result was bricklike, and very tasty once separately boiled water, garlic, a couple of bouillon cubes, and tamari were added.

On Green Split Pea Souper Sunday, I covered two cups of green split peas, plus two tablespoons of olive oil, with more like two inches of water, cooked for 11 minutes, and did the same quick release of pressure—resulting in a geyser of oily beans that shot upward and also ran down the sides of the pot, coating the stovetop, the front of the stove, the side of the stove, the side of the refrigerator, the floor in between the two, the floor in front of the stove, and the little oven on top of the refrigerator. There were beans on the photographs on the front of the refrigerator, on the ceiling above the stove, and even some specks inside the freezer.

I called Tom for assistance, and when he didn’t answer his phone, which is the case 99 times out of a hundred, I yelled his name toward my ceiling until he appeared, which took about 15 seconds. From now on, that’s how I’m going to do it. I asked for his help pulling the stove away from the wall so I could clean the sides of the stove and the refrigerator, and the floor next to and behind the stove.

I learned from the Internet later that it can appear that pressure has been fully released and that it is safe to remove the lid of one’s pressure cooker, but if a bubble of steam is trapped underneath the surface of the stuff being cooked—this could easily happen with beans, especially ones prone to forming a brick, like split peas—there can be an explosion and even injuries when the steam bubble is disturbed. This isn’t what happened to me. The eruption was right through the valve. But I can take some guidance from the advice offered to those seeking to avoid the former scenario: not to do quick pressure release, and to tilt the pot from side to side to free any trapped steam bubbles before opening the lid.

Now, it is possible that my pot’s safety valve was warning me that the pressure was dangerously high by emitting steam horizontally. I hope that it was, and that I just failed to notice it, because that would mean my pot’s safety features are working correctly. But if it wasn’t, then I am left to wonder: Is my pot defective? Is there some inherent difference between green split peas and yellow split peas? Did it make a difference to cover by two inches of water instead of half an inch of water? Was I just lucky with the yellow split peas?

I would call up T-Fal and complain—the best defense being a good, swift offense—except that the manual for this pot explicitly says not to cook split peas in it. Also, it may be that the safety valve did perform just as it was supposed to.

However, the Internet says you can safely cook split peas in a pressure cooker if you proceed with caution. I don’t think Lorna Sass says not to do it. In the interest of science, I’m tempted to cook green split peas again next week covered by just half an inch of water and do the quick release, but have a small pot handy to clap over the valve in case the same thing happens. Also, it might be prudent to wear my safety goggles. Or I could cook green split peas covered with two inches of water and keep a closer eye on the safety valve.

It took forever to clean up the mess. Mysteries remain. The good news is that, once I added all the other stuff, the green split peas were delicious. Serving suggestion: Reheat with finely chopped leafy greens and a handful of frozen shiitake.