There is a story on my wife’s side of the family that involves a baptismal party, her father, a pressure cooker and an explosion that left a pot full of chicken parts plastered to a ceiling.

“I heard a loud bang,” my mother-in-law said. “He had filled it too full. He was just trying to help.”

And so goes the pressure cooker. The antiquated apparatus that can either produce fall-off-the-bone chicken or trips to the emergency room.

“It has a reputation for being complicated and dangerous,” says Lauren Slaff, a chef and culinary instructor. “But this is unwarranted. The new models are foolproof and affordable. And the results are amazing.”

Pressure cookers are like the anti-crock pot. Both essentially do the same thing but one takes all day and one takes 25 minutes. A roast? Approximately 40 minutes.

“You should get a good sear on the meat before pressure cooking so it doesn’t end up tasting boiled,” Slaff says. And this is true with any braise, which is what pressure cooking essentially is, minus three or so hours.

It is a forgone conclusion among the bean lovers in our region that the only way to effectively cook an Anasazi (or pinto) bean at our altitude is with a pressure cooker. “The results can be creamy but if you’re not careful, it can be mush,” Slaff says, warning that overcooking can be a problem. Play around with cooking times erring on the side of caution. Underdone? Seal it back up and return it to the heat. No problem.

So, fear no chicken parts on your ceiling. Rediscover your grandmother’s microwave. You can land a modern (and safe) unit for less than $100. – Rick Scibelli, Jr

Recipes by Lauren Slaff

Cowgirl Beans

Ingredients (Serves 6-8 as a side dish)

2 cups Anasazi (or pinto) beans, sorted and soaked overnight
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 jalapeño or 1 Serrano pepper, seeded (or not, if you like it fiery) and minced
2 fresh bay leaves
1 bunch fresh epazote (if you can’t find this Mexican herb, substitute with cilantro) stemmed and chopped (about ½ to ¾ cup)
1 bottle Ska Pinstripe Red Ale
3 to 4 tablespoons chipotles in adobo, finely minced or pureed
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (more for garnish)


Drain and rinse soaked beans and place in a pot (or pressure cooker) with fresh water to cover by 1½”.
Add the onion, garlic, minced pepper, bay leaves and epazote to the pot. If using traditional method, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. For pressure cooker method, cover and seal with lid. When it has reached pressure point, reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes. Do not open or stir.
Next add the beer, stir and either continue simmering 30-45 minutes or reseal pressure cooker and repeat last step for another 15 minutes or so.
When beans have reached desired texture, remove bay leaves, and stir in the chipotle, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and cilantro. Taste and add more salt or vinegar as needed.

Green Chile Braised Lamb Shanks

Ingredients (Serves 4 )

4 locally-raised lamb shanks
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dry oregano (Mexican, if available)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups roasted green chiles, seeded (or not) and chopped (or from a jar or frozen, no biggie) with liquid
2 cups fire roasted diced tomatoes, with liquid
1-2 cups beef or chicken stock
salt & pepper
grapeseed or other high-heat oil for browning lamb


Pat dry shanks and season generously with salt and pepper. In a stockpot or pressure cooker, heat just enough oil over high heat to coat bottom of pan. When oil is hot but not smoking, brown shanks on all sides until a nice brown crust is achieved.
Remove shanks and lower heat to medium. Add onions to pan (and a little more oil if needed) and cook until brown and soft, scraping brown bits from lamb as you cook.
When onions are nicely caramelized, stir in garlic, cumin, oregano and coriander, cooking until just fragrant. Add Worcestershire and green chiles and sauté for another minute. Add tomatoes and stir.
Return lamb shanks to the pot and add just enough stock to bring liquid halfway up the shanks and no more.
For traditional method, bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, cover and cook for about 1½ to 2 hours until meat is tender. For pressure cooker, cover, seal and bring to pressure then lower heat and cook for 30 minutes. Test for tenderness and cook an additional 5-10 minutes in same fashion if needed.
When lamb is done, remove shanks to warm bowls (preferably with some creamy polenta on the bottom) and test the sauce for seasoning. Season with salt and pepper as desired and then ladle over shanks to serve.

This dish and Cowgirl Beans would be even better with some fresh chopped cilantro, sliced radishes and a couple wedges of lime.