Cooking Under Pressure & the Caramelised Carrot Soup Recipe

Monday, April 08, 2013

If you have been following this blog for a while, you will notice that I am very open to newer techniques of cooking and the better use of our kitchen appliances.

Staying in this busy and bustling city of Singapore, I am always seeking to "do more with less." The only way to get much cooking done - and with good results - is to be open to learning new ways of cooking.

That's right, I am learning all the time. I have some very useful cookbooks in my library. When I am cooking or conversing with other home cooks or career chefs, my ears are perked up all the time. If I have to sound stupid to learn something new, I will. I am not out to tell others how much I know. I simply want to learn so that I can cook better and more efficiently. From making Tim Sum to preparing suckling pig the Spanish way, I am just keen to learn. Whether it is attending a cooking class by a famous chef or listening to a domestic helper on how to keep her Fried Nian Gao crispy, I am a student all the time.

Learn, experiment, integrate, improve. In the area of cooking, one never arrives. It is a constant journey of learning. Adopt this attitude and anyone can improve on their cooking.

While the wok remain my favourite cooking tool, I have been very happy with using the Sous Vide and the Pressure Cooker to cook my meals, Asian or Western. While I have grown up cooking with the wok in my Mum's restaurant kitchen, I have come to realise that it does not come as easy to others and one problem is the imprecision inherent in this form of cooking. The intensity of the fire, type of wok and wok action will all affect the outcome of the dish and this is one reason why most Asian cooking sites will recommend the recipe as a guide as best.

Here is where some "modernist" approach to cooking is coming in handy. I know of some friend who have bypassed traditional methods of cooking and go straight to using SV, PC and the microwave to cook their dinners. If you have a small, open apartment kitchen and limited time, these tools can come in handy. You can pick up a recipe off the net and be fairly sure of it's outcome due to the same "controlled environment."

The Pressure Cooker basically works by increasing the pressure in the pot, which in turn raises the boiling point of water (an be as high as 120C) which means that the food in there will cook at a higher temperature. It means these:

1. The cooking time can drop significantly. I do stocks often and a PC can come up with an intense stock in a third of the time. This is not just about saving time. You actually have more "stove space" as this means that the stove can be use to cook other things instead from the time saved. How will your food improve? If I have to use 2-3 -hours to make a good chicken stove, I can tell you that I am likely to compromise if time is a factor. But if 45 mins will do the trick, I will work that in.

2. There will be browning and caramelisation at this higher temperatures, and this will affect the flavours of some soups/stocks.

3. The high steam environment in the pot allow for quicker cooking of one pot meals. For example, if you time it well, you can cook both chicken and rice the Hainanese way (by raising the chicken on a trivet and the rice at the bottom soaking in the juices.) If your kitchen is small, this one-pot cooking method comes in handy. It can be difficult though, to prevent the chicken from overcooking and you are not likely to make the best version of HCR using this method. But it is a space and time saver.

4. The high pressure and steam environment in a PC allows for cooking in canning jars. It is a convenient way of making confits, chutneys and sauces. If you have the right type of jars, you can make chilli sauces that way. It will take longer but it is unattended cooking time. I use induction cooker with a timer and just let the jars cook till the time is up. When the jars cool, they go straight into the fridge. Convenient. You can use this approach to prepare pre-cooked food for storage for convenient reheating and serving when needed.

There are many possibilities and it is up to your creativity and imagination.

Soups turn out very well when you use the PC. I bought the new cookbook, "Modernist Cuisine at Home" recently. It did not come cheap but there is a wealth of interesting info there. Since I am already have PC and SV, I find it very useful.

One recipe from there which I have come to love is the Caramelised Carrot Soup. I have never imagine that carrot soup can be anything but baby food. But somehow, the PC turns it into a beautiful soup with caramelised flavours. The addition of baking soda raises the PH slightly, aiding the caramelisation process. You get a terra-cotta coloured soup which taste just as beautiful.

Here is the recipe, adapted from the cookbook (I added some additional notes):

Caramelised Carrot Soup Recipe

Carrots, peeled 500g
Unsalted butter 100g
Water 30g (or 1 small cup)
Salt (5 g or 1 tsp)
Baking soda 2.5 g or half a tsp
Fresh Carrot juice - 2cups or to taste
Salt to taste

  1. Peel the carrots and cut away the fibrous core. Quarter them into 1-2 inch strips.
  2. Melt the butter at the base of the PC at low heat. 
  3. Add the carrots and water to the melted butter. Stir and mix. 
  4. Pressure cook for 20 minutes 
  5. After the PC has cooled and de-pressurised, blend the carrots (you can use a soup stick blender)
  6. You can strain the soup further using a sieve if the carrot is still fibrous. (I omitted this step as the texture of the soup was fine enough after blending)
  7. Add the carrot juice...slowly. Taste along the way to ensure it is not too sweet.  Add water if necessary for the right consistency or if the soup is too sweet. 
  8. Add some salt to taste.
  9. Serve warm, garnished lightly with some neutral flavouring pine nuts or chives.      
Peeled and cored carrots strips
When I used the recipe, I did not bother to be precise in following their measurements for the simple reason that there were so many other variables (i.e. type of carrot juice, butter. Even the carrots bought here are different in sweetness!) I was using it as a guide and towards the end, some finer adjustments guided by my own plate. There is a ratio needed to ensure it cooks properly in the PC (carrots, water, butter).

Cream or chicken stock is not necessary. It was really simple to do and this has quickly become one of my favourite soups. Anytime there is leftover carrots, I will know what to do with them. You can do the same for pumpkin soup.

Give this a try and it may change your approach to soup making.

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  1. Hi,

    In your own experience, does stocks that derived from pc superior than the basic simmering technique? I have tried your Hokkkien prawn mee recipe and would like to bring it to the next level...

  2. I use PC for the time convenience but I have not noted a significant difference, partly because there are so many variable each time. I find that steeping the prawns overnight is important. That said, the PC should extract more flavour from yr stock compared to normal simmering. It also keeps more of the flavours in as the PC is sealed.

  3. Hi,
    Your comment makes sense. However, I have decided against a pc as of now as I want to try steeping and use a combo of pork bone/chicken feet/chicken carcass and prawn shells to create the stock. Last week, I tried soy sauce chicken for the 5th time. I discarded 大華 for orchid brand and rose wine for 当归 herbs. Wow... Nice...I just leveled up!

  4. For my Mum's version of prawn mee, she uses prawns shells/heads, dried shrimps (heh bee) and ikan bilis to create a seafood base stock. If u get the proportion right (more prawns shells usually=better stock), along with some belachan, gula melaka, salt, rock sugar and chicken stock concentrate, the taste should be perfect. Of course I make this with ref to taste memories from her version. I have not added pork and chicken bones before but I will suggest doing her recipe well enough before adding other stuff. In most commercial hawker version, they add more bones as these are cheaper and easier to manage cf to prawns or the dried seafood stuff. Anyway, enjoy your experiments!