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Adding vegetable stock making in my pressure cooker (yummy!) to my existing garden/food workflow  RSS feed

 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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I am currently eating a plant-based diet for health reasons.  For me, that means cooking with a lot of legumes, and I make a lot of soups.  When I'm in a hurry, I'll throw some canned cooked beans in a bowl with some spices and flavorings (dash of this, splash of that, diced onions and garlic or heavy pinch of powdered ones) and some frozen corn and peas and microwave it.  Viola, vegetable bean soup!  It's not really cooking but it's healthy and satisfying.  But: that fast soup or just about anything else I cook works a lot better when I have a good strong flavorful vegetable stock handy.  The commercial ones are too expensive or too insipid or have too much added vegetable oil (which I avoid) -- but mostly they offend my sense of frugality whether or not they are fine from a culinary and diet perspective.  Especially when:

My morning workflow during gardening months involves getting out in the garden first thing when it's (relatively) cool.  I do my watering, I do my weeding while the hose is deep-watering stuff, I do the basic garden putter of picking off dead leaves and offensive critters, and I usually do a fast harvest of things that need to be picked, which for me, this morning, was tomatoes, cukes, a few kale leaves, a few fat onion greens, some okra, a few small green peppers, a few asparagus beans, and some volunteer purslane. 

My garden is small and my ability to make it produce strongly during the summer dormancy of scorching July/August temps here is weak.  So often when I come in, of a morning, I literally have like two beans and four okra pods and a green pepper and my little bowl of tomatoes and cukes.  But at least a couple of times a week, I know I've got enough stuff getting old in my fridge that I need to have steamed veggies for lunch.  So on that day, I'll also pick a handful of kale and a handful of onion greens and a handful of whatever herbs I got and whatever volunteer "weed" greens are out there (right now that's purslane and going-to-seed sorrel and lambsquarter).  The thing about this is that I don't really *like* some of these vegetables, especially the okra and the kale.  I am still teaching myself to like them, and my current strategy is to steam them up in a wild melange, so that there's not too much of anything I don't like and it's mixed with lots of other stuff I do like.

So I get out my countertop electric steamer (I prefer electric appliances over stove top cooking in the summer when my AC units are struggling) and I chop up whatever I got from my garden.  Today it was kale and the pole beans and okra and an old zucchini and thin-fleshed little heat-stressed green bell peppers and purslane and sorrel and lambsquarters and onion greens.  I also throw in a few store veggies, often including potatoes, white or sweet.  Today it was a big white onion and some carrots and the last of a trio of fat juicy red sweet peppers that were 3 for a buck at Sprouts.  I jam that electric steamer basket full, to be served later with Asian condiments like hot sweet chili sauce and soy sauce.  And then it had been my practice to compost or bin all the ends, cut-offs, and unappealing bits left over from prepping.

But, remember this is a post about making vegetable stock!  And I had done it a few times, the old-fashioned way, with a long simmer of relatively few vegetables in a big kettle on the stovetop.  The results weren't very interesting and did not (IMO) justify the expense in propane, because the stock didn't really brighten up my life.

But recently I had an epiphany that my beloved electric pressure cooker could be used to make stock.  It is essentially pressure-cooking inside a big thermos bottle, so it doesn't ad much heat or steam to my kitchen.  So here's what I've started doing. 

On a day when I know it's steamed vegetables for lunch, I pick a few extra greens and more of the weedy green stuff and especially the herbs that don't go nicely into the steamer basket.  So I have a bit more stuff in the bowl I use to collect my daily harvest.  Then I set the electric pressure cooker vessel right next to the steamer basket on the counter by my cutting board where I do all my vegetable prep.  Now I have three different places for the stuff that comes off my knife to go: stockpot, steamer basket, or bin.  But a ton less gets binned!  As I prep onions, carrots, peppers, zucchini, okra, beans, and kale, all the ends and sides and parings and edible-but-tough stems, sun-scorched or discolored bits, and miscellaneous refuse that's perfectly food-flavored but unattractive or unappealing because of texture?  That all goes in the stock pot while the best bits go into the steamer basket.  Only the truly woody stems, undesirable-flavored seeds, or actual rotten/moldy bits go into the bin.

Then when my steamer basket is steaming, I add a few things to the stock pot.  This includes the herbs from my garden that I don't use with the steamer (today that was a bit of sage, thyme, a little sprig of lemongrass, and some pinched-off basil flowers, and dried-out greyish bits of the sorrel), a bit of salt and pepper for seasoning, a few fennel seeds, a bit of garlic powder, a pinch of smoked paprika, and a cheating little bit of turmeric powder so the resulting stock is less gray/brown and more golden.  I also check the fridge for other neglected store veggies, which today yielded me some celery tops for the stock.  I top up the pressure vessel to its max fill line with water and set the cooker to max pressure/max time (which on mine is 99 minutes).  Set it and forget it. 

I let the pressure cooker cook and return to near room temperature (which takes some hours given how well it's insulated).  Then I just run the stock through a wire strainer (a colander would work) and return all the fleshy bits filtered out to the compost or trash depending on how lazy I am feeling.  (I have...complexities...about composting kitchen waste, and it doesn't always happen.)  Anyway, the stock goes in wine bottles in my fridge, and (as I can remember) I also freeze some in ice cube trays to store in the freezer.  I don't trust the fresh/bottled for more than a week or two, but now I can splash it liberally into everything I cook instead of the cooking water I was too-frequently using before.  The stock ice cubes will keep effectively forever I imagine, but I haven't been doing this long enough to test that and in any case I don't expect my supply to last more than a month or two past the time when my garden is frozen down to near-nothing.   

Net result is that by combining it with an existing kitchen workflow I get really tasty vegetable stock in unlimited quantities (well, compared to my limited needs when cooking vegetable foods for one person) at close to zero cost in money and with less than ten minutes of additional kitchen time.  I suppose this is old hat to experienced kitchen people, but I've had to learn 80% of my cooking "skills" (primitive as they are) since I started trying to make whole vegetable foods interesting enough to eat three squares a day of.  And for me, the keys to cracking a good vegetable stock turned out to be:

1) incorporating it in my existing garden/kitchen/eating workflow;
2) using the "set it and forget it" electric pressure cooker
3) freezing the stock into cubes before it sours in the fridge
4) using a much larger diversity of vegetables and flavorful herbs than most stock "recipes" suggest

It wasn't until all of these came together for me that it all began to seem worth the bother.

Hope that some part of this will prove helpful to somebody!


 
Tyler Ludens
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Super!  I don't have a pressure cooker but I wonder if a slow cooker would work?
 
Dan Boone
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I don't have a pressure cooker but I wonder if a slow cooker would work?


I believe it would!  I didn't think of that before I got the electric pressure cooker or I would have tried it.  Downsides might be (a) not as energy efficient and (b) puts a bit more heat into your kitchen for longer and (c) takes a lot longer overall, albeit there's no watching required. But still, I think it would work just fine.  I'm not sure how it would work out on flavor.  Traditional stovetop simmered stock (probably I was making it wrong) always came out muddy and dull-flavored for me, while the pressure cooker seems to retain more flavors.  I would expect the slow cooker to be somewhat intermediate?  Just guessing here.
 
John Polk
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I just let my peelings, cuttings, etc build up in plastic bags in the freezer until I have enough to do a stock pot full.  (If I have left-overs, they go into the bags also.)  Free nutrition, and flavor from what most people just send to the landfill (after it has stunk up their trash bin since last week's pick up).

I'll have to look into those stand-alone pressure cookers.  I can just set one up on my back porch, and keep all of those BTUs out of the house during warm weather.
 
Julia Winter
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Pressure cookers are the best for broth!  Also pretty awesome for cooking beans, rice and potatoes.  My pressure cooker makes brown rice in the time it takes to cook white rice in a regular pot.

If you have a modern pressure cooker (not with the jiggly weight thing, that leaks a fair amount of steam) you are using far less energy and heating up your house less than open cooking.
 
Marla Kacey
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Dan, how long do you pressure cook your stock?  You said your cooker will go to 99 minutes, but I missed where you set the timer for stock.

Thanks!

Edited to add:  Never mind.  I reread your post again, and there it was.  The full 99.  Thanks!
 
Hans Quistorff
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I am not making vegetable stock but steam juicing berries and apples but the operation would be the same. I am taking advantage of the summer heat in my west facing outdoor kitchen. Around 6 PM the sun coming under the porch roof reaches the top of my outdoor kitchen counter and the temperature reaches 90 to 100F.  By that time I have all my prep done and it takes very little input from the electric hotplate to get the temperature above boiling. By the time the steaming is done the sun is behind the distant trees and the temperature drops to a comfortable level to complete the storage phase while I still have daylight.

So for a summer kitchen I recommend the west wall on the outside of your house. Do the preparation in the morning shade and the cooking in the afternoon sun for for maximum use of  the cycle of coolth and heat.
 
Jason Learned
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Dan Boone wrote:  I also freeze some in ice cube trays to store in the freezer.  I don't trust the fresh/bottled for more than a week or two, but now I can splash it liberally into everything I cook instead of the cooking water I was too-frequently using before.  The stock ice cubes will keep effectively forever I imagine, but I haven't been doing this long enough to test that and in any case I don't expect my supply to last more than a month or two past the time when my garden is frozen down to near-nothing.   


I have found that my ice cubes shrink over time because of the tendency of things to sublimate in a freezer, so I put my ice cubes in a sealed box in the freezer to keep the ice cubes longer-- like I'm going out of town or whatever, they should be there when I want them. They seem to last longer when they are sealed up and it makes room in my ice trays to make more. Just thought it might be something you could try, or maybe the sublimation will make yours more concentrated?

I'll have to try this method for stock, might be a tad more efficient than my normal simmer all night long.

Jason
 
John Rynne
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Dan Boone wrote:   I also check the fridge for other neglected store veggies, which today yielded me some celery tops for the stock.  I top up the pressure vessel to its max fill line with water and set the cooker to max pressure/max time (which on mine is 99 minutes).  Set it and forget it. 

We use a pressure cooker all the time (we own 6, for a variety of reasons). The whole point of pressure cooking is it gets the job done FAST. For example, vegetable stock should be done in 5 minutes at a reasonable pressure; give it 10 if you want overkill. 99 minutes would be excessive using a normal pot; that long with a pressure cooker is just a waste of time and energy
 
Dan Boone
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John Rynne wrote:The whole point of pressure cooking is it gets the job done FAST. For example, vegetable stock should be done in 5 minutes at a reasonable pressure; give it 10 if you want overkill. 99 minutes would be excessive using a normal pot; that long with a pressure cooker is just a waste of time and energy


I'm not sure we're on the same wavelength here.

The whole point of pressure cooking is to do cooking jobs fast.  But is stock-making even truly a cooking process, or is it a flavor-extraction process?  In other words, I may be using my electric pressure cooker to do a different thing than it's designed to do, so the default wisdom may not apply.

The way I learned to make meat-based stocks from my mother involved simmering the bones on a wood stove (what we had) overnight -- a long slow simmer that leached all the flavor out of the stock material and reduced the total liquid volume, further concentrating the flavors.

I am only reasoning by analogy when it comes to vegetable stock-making, but what I've tried in the past was a similar long slow simmer.  On a gas stove (what I have now) it's fuel-expensive and I haven't been that impressed with the results; the flavor comes out sort of dull and muddy. 

Online recipes for vegetable stock all seem to suggest about 90 minutes of simmering "or until the volume is reduced by half".    I'm not getting any reduction in my electric pressure cooker, since the steam is captured, but I think that might be why my resulting flavors are brighter and fresher, because volatile flavors are not escaping with the steam. 

I can indeed "cook" the vegetable components of my stock in the first ten or so minutes in my pressure cooker.  But I'm not sure I'd get much flavor out of the vegetables in that time.  I should try the experiment; it won't hurt much (just the cost of one heat cycle) to close it back up and re-cook if the broth is weak. 

Thanks for the input!
 
Julia Winter
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It's worth trying different times.  I make bone broth, and have found it tastes better after "only" 4-6 hrs at high pressure (versus overnight or longer, which is what I used to do).  When I make seafood broth, I go for a lot less time as well.
 
Tim Skufca
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I would have to agree with John Rynne that a pressure cooker for vegetable stock for 99 minutes would be excessive. When I was involved in commercial cooking we would simmer the veal bones for hours. But flavor extraction from bones is quite different from flavor extraction from vegies. Try a batch for 10 minutes. I bet it's superior. Then try 5 minutes.
 
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