Valentine's Day is the perfect time to make a restaurant-calibre meal at home — especially if you just realised it's on Friday and there are no good dinner reservations left. Modernist cooking enlists techniques that require less active time cooking, while still producing rich flavours — just the sort of thing needed to create a memorable dinner that you can actually enjoy making.
The Modernist Cuisine at Home Lite app, a free preview of its $85 app, features several dishes perfect for Valentine's Day. They're sharing some recipes exclusively with Gizmodo, like this week's idea to use a pressure cooker for a romantic dinner for two.
Cooking a multi-course meal can plague some of us with anxiety; we feverishly check food wondering, "Is it cooked enough?" and watch the clock tick as we wait for sauces to reduce and flavours to develop.
Pressure cookers remove a lot of that anxiety by developing the characteristic flavours and textures of food so quickly that what is conventionally a long, labour-intensive process becomes one hardly more time-consuming than a casual sauté. For example, an intense chicken stock takes 90 minutes instead of two or three hours.
A pressure cooker works by capturing steam that, as it builds up, increases pressure in the vessel. The pressure increase in turn raises the boiling point of water, which normally limits the cooking temperature of wet foods to 100C (at sea level; the boiling point is slightly lower at higher elevations). Because the effective cooking temperature is higher in the pressure cooker — as high as 120C — the cooking time can drop substantially.
The high temperatures inside the cooker also promote browning and caramelization, reactions that create flavours you can't get otherwise in a moist cooking environment. Something magical happens when you combine chopped carrots, butter, a little water, and a pinch each of baking soda and salt in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes. At a slightly alkaline pH of 7.5 (because of the baking soda) and a temperature of 120C, the caramelisation reactions flourish. The result is a terracotta-coloured mixture that is the concentrated essence of caramelised carrots.
Now that you understand the technique, try your hands at these recipes.
Pictures: Tyson Stole / Modernist Cuisine LLC; Nathan Myhrvold / Modernist Cuisine LLC; Melissa Lehuta / Modernist Cuisine LLC; Melissa Lehuta / Modernist Cuisine LLC; Melissa Lehuta / Modernist Cuisine LLC; Tyson Stole / Modernist Cuisine LLC