The Pressure Cooker Disaster

Author’s Note

I realize that I didn’t blog yesterday, but, once again, I’m going to ask that I be excused from yesterday’s commitment considering the following tale you’re about to read. Let’s just say that I felt defeated in a way that The Old Man and the Sea didn’t know a man could be defeated. In any event, I just didn’t feel like blogging.

Also, I understand that a successful blog must stick to one topic in order to maintain a dedicated readership. In my case, the topic would be about writing. I’d like to think that I’ve generally written about writing; even my reviews are typically written from a writer’s perspective. This blog post is not about writing. It’s strictly personal; however, I don’t see why an off-topic post can’t help spice things up once in a while.

The perils of pressure cooking.

My Worst Cooking Fears Realized (Almost)

I’m not much of a chef, but I enjoy cooking and can generally prepare something edible and even tasty for that matter, without burning down the apartment. Sure, I often fall back on the old standby: Ramen noodles, but even then I’ll toss in some eggs and/or vegetables, depending on the flavor. When I have more time, I’ll pan fry a steak or eggs or sausages. In short, I’m not a lost cause in the kitchen.

My number one cooking tool is a pressure cooker. Basically, it’s a pot with a lid that “fastens” to the pot, using “twist and lock” engineering. I’m sure there’s a more technical term for that. Anyway, as most people know, you don’t want to put a lid on something that’s boiling or it’ll boil over, which is why the lid has to lock with the pot. Between the lid and the pot is a rubber lining to ensure that there are no breaches. So when you start cooking something, like some pork shoulders in water let’s say, the liquid inside turns to vapor which expands and creates a lot of pressure. The pressure is trapped inside, pulverizing the meat and making it very tender in a short amount of time. If you cook with a slow cooker, you may want to give a pressure cooker a try to cut down your wait.

Now, this system wouldn’t work if the pressure was completely trapped. The whole thing would explode. That’s why a vent is built into the lid to let out pressure. The vent has a weight on it that rises when the pressure it strong enough to lift it, which opens up a hole to escape. The pressure then drops a little bit and the weight descends to block the hole until the pressure builds up again. This way the cooker stays in a “pressure sweet spot” until you’re done cooking. I love using the pressure cooker, because it allows me to prepare some of my favorite Filipino entrées in no time flat.

With that said, I’m always slightly afraid of pressure cookers, considering how volatile they behave, with vapor continually shooting out and all. I always fear that the whole thing is just going to explode the second I walk by and I’ll have a pressure cooker lid flying through my face. I think I have this irrational fear, because of my first pressure cooker that was a hand-me-down from my Mom when I moved out. The rubber lining was so mangled from years of use that pressure would leak unless you pre-wet the liner, adjusted it over and over again during cooking and sweet-talked it. Things got better when Mom bought me a newer model for Christmas five years ago. It was understandably sturdier and even had a convenient pressure release valve for after cooking. Despite these assurances, I could never shake the feeling that it might explode on me one day.

The Death of Friday Night Plans

Yesterday was the birthday of three of my friends. Now that I think about it, that’s kind of amazing. Anyway, one of them invited me over for drinks to celebrate. The shindig was at 8 p.m. I figured I’d show up around 9 and since she lives in Los Angeles, that gave me about three hours to myself. I decided to eat the pork shoulders I bought on Thursday. I hadn’t had a proper home-cooked meal in some time and I was itching to cook something nice for myself instead of shelling out for takeout.

Usually, I only cook two cuts of shoulder, because of the small dimensions of my pressure cooker. Also, I usually let the meat fully thaw before cooking. This time, because of my scheduled engagement, I kind of rushed things. I didn’t let the pack of meat fully thaw. I also decided to cook all three pieces in the pack, because I didn’t want to refreeze a single cut of pork shoulder. All of this resulted in a fairly overstuffed pressure cooker. Yet, I believed it could handle it.

About forty minutes into cooking, I heard a loud, dull pop and the hiss of quickly escaping gas. I ran to the kitchen to see a fountain of white, foamy water belching into the air from various breaches in the pressure cooker in three elegant arcs. I gingerly approached the stove and forced my hand through the scorching water to turn the range knob and kill the flame. Then I turned on the fan above the stove to suck the steam up and away from the smoke detectors. Within seconds, the fountain stopped.

Unfortunately, the entire kitchen was coated in broth. Since the shoulders had a thick layer of fat that had melted under the extreme pressure, the fat was now congealing in disgusting white globs on my cupboards, floor, countertops and especially my stove. I shook my head at my hubris and resigned myself to cleaning the mess. Well, most of it anyway. After sponging everything down with soap, I consumed an entire roll of paper towels to dry everything. I had decided to leave the stove alone until after I was done cooking. After all, why should the meal be spoiled by this mishap? Surely I could salvage it just by refilling the pressure cooker with water and firing up the stove again.

The broth typically goes inside the pressure cooker.

The broth typically goes inside the pressure cooker.

So, with the kitchen largely cleaned and degreased, I did just that and the pork shoulders were once again cooking nicely. As I walked away, I remember thinking, “Too bad I didn’t have my camera ready. That would have made a great blog post picture.” In life, sometimes you get second chances.

Another loud, dull pop and I ran back to the kitchen experiencing déjà vu. My first thought was to grab my camera, but survival instincts took over and I once again turned off the stove and turned on the fan. Then I ran for my camera. Of course by the time I snapped the picture, the spectacle had diminished greatly.

My disappointment and frustration, however, was doubled as I surveyed the kitchen that I had just cleaned, covered in fatty, pressure cooker spew. What was left to do, but cancel my plans and stay in to clean up? I went out to Subway and picked up a sandwich and soup and headed home to stew. I had every intention of staying up to clean, but I was so pissed off that I just went to sleep instead.

I woke up today and did a thorough cleaning of the entire kitchen, which really had been a long time overdue. I had wanted to get to it some weekend, but oddly enough just kept pushing it back. Fortunately, the universe has ways of motivating me. I only wish I had a mop. I did my best to get everything off the floor with a sponge, but I obviously didn’t get everything since I can feel a film of fatty slime on the bottom of my bare feet.

I can no longer trust my pressure cooker to perform reliably, though I’ll still use it sans lid for boiling. In the meantime, I need a new pressure cooker and preferably one that can handle three cuts of pork shoulder.