Gadget of the Day: the pressure cooker. I was planning on raving about this device for some time and what an opportunity presented itself: the crown jewel of the Easter table, no less!
Definitely not in my top 5 when it comes to frequency of use and not the cheapest cookware either, a pressure cooker is an item well worth investing in nonetheless. But what the heck does it actually do?
Glad you asked! If you’re into science to some degree, you’ll find this interesting. If not, feel free to skip the next paragraph or, you could read on and tick the ‘Today I Learned’ box.
Invented in 1679 by French physicist Denis Papin, the pressure cooker is a vessel with a lid that seals airtight, fitted with a regulator valve for the slow and safe release of steam. The method is quite simple: during the cooking process, pressure builds up inside the pot increasing the boiling point of the cooking liquid.
Why is this any good? Because the cooking time shortens – you get the same result as if the food has been braised long and slow, but much quicker and with less energy used.
As I mentioned my pressure cooker isn’t out very often, but there are a few dishes I haven’t made in any other pan since I bought it. And Easter Ham is one of them.
BTW, have you ever wondered why we eat ham on Easter when under Jewish dietary laws pork is strictly forbidden? The answer is actually quite profane: it’s in season. Just like fruits and vegetables, meats also have seasons even if this fact is mostly shielded from us by modern storage techniques and efficient food supply chains.
So the tradition of eating pork instead of lamb to celebrate Christ’s resurrection started for practical reasons. Salted, smoked and cured hams of pigs slaughtered in the winter are ready to eat in the spring. And what a reward to think about during a long period of Lent!
In Hungary, we cook our ham for Easter. Traditionally I mean as I, for one, love to prepare the roasted and glazed variety too. For this dish I buy boneless, cured, smoked and netted shoulder cuts with the skin on. These are smaller pieces around 1,5 kg / 3.3 lbs, but would still feed an army (remember to leave room for all the other holiday delicacies!).
Naturally, you can make this in an average pot, but this way the cooking won’t take up half a day. Just put all ingredients in the pressure cooker, set the stove on high to reach boiling, than reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Steam and pressure will do the rest in less than an hour. Top tip: the remaining broth worth its weight in gold and it’s freezable!
I like to do the cooking the night before. After the meat has cooled slightly in the stock, I transfer it to a tray and carefully remove the netting. After a night’s resting, we eat it thinly sliced on Easter morning with hard-boiled eggs, radishes, spring onions, tangy horseradish sauce and fresh braided challah.
When I am to roast ham, I cook it the same way first. What if this year you stopped at that stage too?
Hungarian Easter Ham
Cooked, not roasted: the Hungarian Easter classic.
smoked, netted ham around 1,5 kg
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp whole black or mixed peppercorns
- Put ham, peeled onions and spices in the pressure cooker, fill up pot with cold water to cover ham.
- Close lid. Cook on high until boiling, reduce heat to low.
- Counting from reducing the heat, simmer for 40 min.
- Switch stove off. Let cool for at least 30 min, open pressure cooker.
- Transfer ham to a tray, remove netting.
- Strain cooking liquid through a sieve and keep for later use.
- Let ham cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!
Do you also eat ham come Easter? How do you do it in your country? What do you eat it with?