It’s too hot to cook. Arroz con pollo in a pressure cooker.

After a pretty mild summer, temps hit the hundreds for us late last week. So cooking anything must be weighed against how much harder the AC will have to work. Time to pull out the pressure cooker.

I like the pressure cooker a lot. It is the best tool to achieve perfect steamed artichokes (I might have already said this). But it is not always ideal. First, it takes up precious counter space, or alternatively, precious cabinet space. It is also a pain to clean, particularly the lid, which is made from multiple parts that must be disassembled. My husband had to convince me to get one because I thought everything could be done in a slow cooker.

He will be astounded to hear me say, I was wrong (don’t tell him).

Despite some hassles, the pressure cooker makes food more itself, if you know what I mean. Plus, you can brown and sauté food in the same pan, with very accurate and steady temperatures. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know I love dishes that only require a single pan, and I do my best to pay attention to temperatures.

Here is some truth: I was not prepared to make this dish. In fact, I really had no idea what I was going to make for dinner that night. So the chicken and the stock were still frozen. The pressure cooker doesn’t care. The pressure cooker laughs at your foolish frozen items. It will cook them anyway.

OK that’s enough of an intro… let’s cook:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 tbs butter
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
2 cups rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper
1 cup frozen peas
Cilantro to garnish

Defrost the chicken enough to get it out. Set the cooker to brown and add the chicken, generously seasoning with salt and pepper.

Brown the chicken and then remove. You don’t have to worry about ensuring it cooks all the way through, because you are going to add it back in with the rice.

Switch the cook instructions to sauté. Put a pat of butter in the cooker and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the rice and sauté until the rice starts to get a little translucent around the edges, maybe 5 minutes.

Add the stock, tomato sauce, paprika, and cumin, stirring gently. Here is my trick for ensuring I have the right level of liquid to rice. I stick my pinky (very clean) into the pot and touch just the top of the rice. The water level should come just up to the first joint line on my pinky.

Place the chicken on top and close the lid. Set the pressure cooker on high pressure for 10 minutes. When the timer is up, use the quick release valve.

When the pressure is gone, remove the lid and give the rice a stir. It might look like there is too much liquid on the top at first, but after a few minutes, that liquid redistribute and the result with be a really nice velvety sauce. Add the frozen peas while you stir (don’t worry, the mixture is surface-of-the-sun hot and will defrost those peas immediately). Garnish with cilantro as you dish it out.

A few changes I would make: I did not have saffron. I would have used either yellow rice or saffron to get that rich color expected from arroz con pollo. Also, other recipes call for a small amount of tomato paste rather than a full can of tomato sauce. That would also yield a more traditional color.

Still, this was a win in my book. It was perfect for a last minute dinner plan on a sweltering day.

How to make better chicken stock

Photo by Bil Harding, via Flickr

Here is the deep dark secret to developing the “chickeniest” chicken stock you’ve ever tasted. Plus, my genius (stolen) ideas for straining and cooling. With my apologies to the vegetarians.

The goal for this recipe is to achieve a deeply flavored bone stock that is fundamentally “chicken.” It takes on a jello consistency when chilled. It can be used to make soup or to flavor other dishes for any type of cuisine (ok, except vegetarian). Also, I’m sorry for the intro photo.

There are a ton of chicken stock recipes out there. Most of them call for an addition of aromatic vegetables, and flavorful spices or herbs.

But I’m here to tell you to knock it off.

Here is the recipe:

A large stock pot (tall, not wide), pressure cooker large enough to fit everything, or a crock pot .
A fine mesh strainer
A large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath
A variety of freezer-safe containers. I find 32 oz, 16 oz, and ice cube trays (with lids) the most useful.

1-3 chicken or turkey carcasses (with some meat still on), leftover wings, neck, skin, or any other tendon-rich pieces. I keep carcasses in my freezer and when I have a couple of them, I make stock.
Water
Optional: 1 tablespoon of salt or less

Put the carcasses in your stock pot and put just enough water to hit the top of the bones. Do not overfill the pot. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to simmer for 8 hours or overnight. If using an electric pressure cooker, follow the same directions, then check your manual for heat, time, and release instructions. With a crockpot, be sure everything fits (you will not be able to make as much at one time).

When the stock is ready, fit a fine mesh strainer over a large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath. A fine mesh strainer is usually good enough for my needs. However, sometimes, I prefer clearer stock. If you do also, run it through the fine mesh, then, in a secondary process, add a cheese cloth to the stainer and run it through again. (If you try to do the cheese cloth during the first run, it will get clogged really quickly.) The bowl sitting in the ice bath is a great method to start the cooling process quickly. The faster you can get it cooled and into the freezer, the less time there is for bacteria to set in.

Empty the strained stock into your smaller vessels often so you can get them into the refrigerator for a few hours. The fridge-first method is a good idea—it reduces steam condensation and deters freezer burn, and it allows you to gauge the success (does it look like jello) of your stock. Once the stock is cold you can move it to the freezer and keep it for 2-3 months. If you use ice trays, freeze them overnight then pop the cubes into a freezer safe bag for storage.

What is missing?

Do not add any onion, celery, carrot, garlic, ginger, chiles, parsley, cilantro, or any other fresh plants. Sure, adding these things are traditional and make you feel like you are “adding flavor” to make your stock.

But these other ingredients turns your stock into chicken/vegetable stock, and the result is usually not very good because vegetables release flavor much more quickly than bone and don’t improve with long cooking. Make a vegetable stock on its own in about 30 minutes and you’ll like the flavor better.

I’m not opposed to adding some spices, such as peppercorns, bay, and thyme. However, I have found they aren’t necessary, because you will likely use them in the secondary process. Others such as anise, cinnamon, can bring in either an Asian or Middle Eastern influence. Be cautious, however, because those distinctive flavors can clash with other cuisines. And again, you will likely add them to your final dish.

One note: It is better to under salt than over salt. I have two reasons: One, if you are using a leftover carcass, it is likely there is already salt on the bird, particularly if it was brined. Two, you are going to add salt to your final dish. This is a base ingredient and it does not need to be salty.

One more note: I do not talk about fat. There are ways to remove it. I’m not going to go into those methods, because I like the fat in my broth. Fat is flavor.

Make the Stock Even Better

There are additional ways to improve this stock. I’m approaching it from the idea of using what is leftover after a holiday or Sunday night dinner with family. If you really want to get exceptional stock, buy chicken feet from your butcher and use that alone or along with your carcass and pieces. Tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue are what make stock great. Chicken feet are nothing but tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue.

A pressure cooker is the best way to get a really “essential” stock flavor. The way pressure cookers force liquid into food at a high heat produces a caramelization that simply cannot be achieved with slow cook methods. The result is a deep and complex stock in a fraction of the time. It is great for cooking in the summer as well. My only problem with the pressure cooker is that mine has a 10-cup capacity, which includes the bones. It is a lot of work to make stock for such little output.

So there you have it. The best chicken stock recipe I’ve found is the one that emphasizes technique and contains no extra ingredients.