Through her work as an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food
safety agent, Janice Hall has noted two food trends in
recent years: a slight uptick in hunting — at least, partly driven by a desire
to reduce food costs — and a keen interest among many overworked, overstressed consumers in reducing the time invested in food preparation.
Drawing on these insights, Hall is reacquainting consumers with
pressure cooking, a technique that, while not exactly going the way of the dinosaurs
in this age of ready-to-eat, microwavable foods, has undergone a sharp decline.
Reenlisting Pressure Cookers
At workshops throughout the state, Hall is issuing a
forthright call for consumers to dust off those pressure cookers and to enlist
them once again as an integral component of home cooking.
Pressure cooking works by creating steam, which, in turn,
builds pressure. A small amount of water
or other liquid is placed in the bottom of the cooker and heated to
boiling. The steam produced from this
boiling, which is mostly trapped under a tightly sealed lid, raises the pressure
and temperature to exceptionally high levels, cooking the food in considerably
Improved Taste and Tenderness
As Hall has discovered through her own experience, pressure
cooking is an ideal way not only to reduce the toughness commonly associated
with game meat but also to enhance its taste.
“Pressure cooking effectively gelatinizes — breaks down —
the connective tissue associated with tough meat, particularly game meats,”
Hall says, “but the process also infuses meat with whatever ingredients you
choose to add while preserving the natural flavor.”
The technique can reduce cooking time by as much as
two-thirds in some cases.
A relative newcomer herself to pressure cooking, Hall was
sold on the process after successfully cooking her first batch of field peas.
“I burned my first
pot, but after I got the hang of it, I couldn’t believe that you could cook
something that tasted so delicious in such a short time.”
Among her most enduring memories associated with pressure
cooking: her first serving of lima beans.
“The flavor was unbelievable,” she recalls, speaking to a
pressure-cooking workshop held Oct. 22 in Monroeville.
Ecologically Friendly and Energy Efficient
Pressure cooking is also considered ecologically friendly,
requiring less energy than other conventional cooking techniques. It’s an especially
convenient cooking option during power outages.
“Whenever the power goes out, it can be safely and
efficiently used with an alternative source of energy, whether this happens to
be propane, charcoal or wood,” Hall says.
Daniel Robinson, state executive director of the Alabama Farm
Service Agency, who attended Hall’s workshop last year, is one of many
Alabamians who spent his boyhood hunting and fishing to help his family stretch
While he rarely hunts now, Robinson still has an affinity
for game meat — squirrels, rabbits and turtles — and holds a high
regard for pressure cooking as an effective way to tenderize these meats.
“I noticed a big change not only in tenderness but
also taste, with the ingredients completely enclosed in the meat,” he recalls,
adding that he values the process not only for turning out tastier, tender meats but
also in a fraction of the time.
Taking the Process One Step Further: Pressure Canning
Some hunters are taking this one step further, using pressure
canning to preserve game meat.
Dr. Mark Smith, an Alabama Extension wildlife specialist and
Auburn University associate professor of forestry and wildlife sciences, is an
avid hunter who not only dresses his deer but pressure cans much of it.
He was first sold on the merits of canning years ago after
sampling the fare of a fellow hunter.
“Canned deer meet tastes completely different —it comes out
more like roast beef, and there is no gamey taste to it,” says Smith, who also
pressure cooks squirrel and rabbit and processes feral hog meat into sausage.
While he’s become an old hand at preserving game meat by
pressure canning, Smith cautions that this process requires some advanced
preparation and time, though he perceives it is as worth the effort.
“I use the canned meat in a variety of ways — in open-faced
sandwiches, in stews, with rice and gravy, with chili, with taco fajitas, and
even with stroganoff,” Smith says. “It adds some diversity to my diet and there’s
also a great deal of self-satisfaction and independence that comes with this."
“I stay pretty busy each hunting season canning deer meat for
my friends and family,” he adds.
Pressure Canning Impractical for Some
Pressure canning is less practical for hunters who are accustomed
to processors butchering their deer rather than undertaking this task on their
own, according to Smith, who dresses his own animals.
Safety a Critical Concern
Weese says no home-canned meat product should be held for
more than a year.
“Pressure-canned meats, compared with their commercial counterparts,
are more prone to losing their vacuum over time, and for this reason, we tell home
canners that they should consider 12 months the limit for carrying over canned
meat products,” Weese says.
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