When Paul posted to Facebook that we were deploying our pressure cooker for the first time, one friend warned that his mom had used one to make navy beans once when the relief valve blew out. "The beans exploded out all over the ceiling!” Another friend echoed: “My mom had a similar experience. Those old pressure cookers were literally kitchen bombs.” Still another person lamented that we would be missing out on the deep, rich smells produced through slow cooking in a Dutch oven.
Pressure cookers have no legacy in my family, but I still thought of them as mysterious and perhaps a little dangerous. After recently reading a Cook’s Illustrated story on pressure cookers declaring them safe and easy to use – and watching countless Top Chef episodes featuring cheftestants relying on them for tender, moist meat in under an hour – I knew I wanted one. I sat down at my computer, opened my browser, and – one click and two shipping days later – my Fagor 8-quart duo pressure cooker arrived.
After several delicious test runs, I’m enamored. Our pressure cooker produces the most tender, tasty lamb I've ever made. And the smell! It’s even more concentrated and fragrant than lamb cooked in a Dutch oven. The steam jets straight from the cinnamon-infused lamb right into our kitchen. I’m still loyal to my Dutch oven but the quality of lamb from the pressure cooker is superior in flavor, moistness, and tenderness.
I adapted this dish from Saveur magazine’s November 2012 feature “Couscous Royale” showcasing Moroccan tagines and other Maghreb specialties as they are served in Parisian restaurants. My version reduces the amount of honey and water for the pressure cooker and includes dates instead of raisins. Saveur instructs cooks to braise the shanks for three and a half hours on the stovetop. With the pressure cooker, these tender shanks are done in an hour and taste sublime.
Honey Braised Lamb Shanks with Cinnamon and Dates
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 lamb shanks
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup dates
3/4 cup blanched whole almonds
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons store bought or homemade ras el hanout (North African spice mix)
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1 stick cinnamon
Toasted sesame seeds to garnish
Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter in an 8-quart pressure cooker over medium high heat. Brown the lamb on all sides, about 12 minutes total.Add onion to the pot and cook, stirring, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the ras el hanout, saffron, cinnamon stick, and simmer together, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the dates, almonds, honey, and 2 cups filtered water. Lock the pressure cooker lid into place; turn pressure nob to ‘high’ and bring up to pressure (about 10 minutes). Once the pressure tab pops, cook for 40 minutes. Turn off the heat, then release the pressure with the nob. Skim the fat off the top of the liquid. Remove the shanks and serve on top of fluffy, whole wheat couscous, if desired, and top with the toasted sesame seeds.