The Pot that Scared Anthony Bourdain

By The Feiloh - Tuesday, Jun 11, 2013

Celebrity chef and television host Anthony (“Tony”) Bourdain once confessed on his show that pressure cookers scared him when he heard one hissing in the background while shooting an episode in India.


Given Tony’s age, it will not be surprising if his early encounters were with ancient pressure cookers that literally blew their tops. Well, good news: the modern ones are a whole lot safer.


There is one great reason to use pressure cookers: they speed up cooking times by two to ten times over traditional methods, saving time and energy. In effect, it has a greener carbon footprint. They achieve this by allowing pressure to build up in the pot and raising cooking temperatures up to 121 degrees Celsius. These two factors help reduce cooking time and takes nothing out of the original culinary process.


Pressure cooker is a fast way to cook green or red beans to make dessert.


When it comes to cooking meat, the informed cook knows there two broad categories of meat: tender, less exercised muscles like steak cuts that should be properly treated by fast, “dry” cooking like pan frying or grilling. Boiling will only make these expensive cuts tough.


On the other hand, tougher (and cheaper) cuts like brisket and shank require slow, “wet” cooking like braising or stewing for hours on end to make them tender. Such techniques also break down tough connective tissues like tendons, to make them edible.


Other food like beans that require an hour or two of conventional boiling, even after an overnight soak, will be ready to eat in 15 minutes or so, without the risk of boiling over.


And for folks who like to make their own hours-long stock instead of relying on pre-made ones that are heavily seasoned with monosodium glutamate (MSG) and all its guises, good news. Just boil bones, and unused parts of vegetable and meat for 30 minutes in a pressure cooker. Strain the stock thus made and you will be saving money while adding that same great flavour to your dishes.


So, if you are convinced that you should give the pressure cooker a try, you should know that there are now electric cookers that free the busy cook from having to keep an eye on the gas burner and the clock.


With an electric pressure cooker, just set the duration for pressurized cooking and walk away to attend to more important things – like watching Tony Bourdain’s show on TV.


Whether you use a non-electric or electric pressure cooker, do follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to check that the gasket (or seal) under the lid is undamaged to ensure that the cooker doesn’t leak and lose pressure.


The next thing is to make that the safety release valve is not blocked. This device prevents the pressure from increasing beyond the specified range for the pot.


Here’s my recipe for a quick Cantonese-style beef brisket and tendon with noodles. For folks who are unfamiliar with tendon, this method of cooking will soften this under-appreciated body part sufficiently tender to be splurped up. The gooey gelatin rendered from tendon is reputedly good for the complexion; enjoy!


Cantonese-Style Beef Brisket and Tendon with Noodles


Cantonese-style beef brisket



500g beef brisket (Cantonese “ngow lam”)

500g beef tendon (Cantonese “ngow kan”

200g root vegetables like carrot or radish

250g of a green leafy vegetable like bak choy, chye sim or kai-lan

4 tablespoons oyster sauce (use the premium stuff)

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons corn starch

one-quarter teaspoon five spice powder

salt to taste

wonton wheat noodles

Ipoh (narrow) rice noodles (Cantonese “hor fun”)



1) Buy the brisket and tendon from the wet market.

2) Leaving both uncut, rinse and place both into the pressure cooker. Add the oyster sauce and just enough water to cover the meat.

3) Close the lid of the pressure cooker and lock it. Cook under pressure for one hour.

4) Wash, peel and cut the root vegetables on the diagonal into large pieces.

5) Allow the pressure to drop until it is safe to unlock the lid.

6) Remove the brisket and add the root vegetables.

7) Close the lid and lock it. Cook the tendon under pressure for another 15 minutes.

8) Allow the pressure to drop until it is safe to unlock the lid.

9) By now the brisket and tendon should be tender. If not, remove the root vegetables and extend cooking time for both by another 15 minutes.

10) Remove the meat and cut into chunks.

11) With the lid off but the heat still on, add the other condiments to the simmering contents and adjust to taste with salt. As the gravy is meant to accompany the noodles, use a little more five spice powder, salt or oyster sauce as desired.

12) Stir a quarter cup of water into the corn starch and add to pot. Once the gravy has thickened, turn off the heat.

13) While the meat is cooking, rinse and trim the leafy vegetables. Blanch in boiling water for a minute or so and then cook them in a pot of cold or iced water for a few minutes to stop the vegetables from cooking further and to retain its colour; drain.

14) Reheat the noodles according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This generally involves boiling the noodles for less than a minute and then removing them with a wire “spider” drainer.

15) Arrange the noodles, brisket and tendon pieces and vegetables into a bowl or deep plate. Ladle gravy over and serve with pickled green chilli or red chilli sauce.



You are unlikely to find beef brisket and tendon in your supermarket. The ratio of brisket and tendon may be adjusted to suit your preferences. For non-electric pressure cookers, put on high heat after locking the lid. Once the safety release valve starts to hiss or sputter, lower the heat and start timing. One advantage of non-electric pressure cookers is that they can be rapidly cooled in the sink by running cold tap water over them for a few minutes. The recommended cooking times above for the pressure cooker are generally sufficient to render the brisket and tendon to just the right texture to be eaten without losing flavour. Over-cooking is not advisable. For the wonton noodles, you may opt to rinse them with cold water after boiling, the so-called “crossing the cold river” step to remove any alkaline taste and give better mouth feel. Traditionally, radish is the root vegetable of choice but some folks may find them bitter. If so, just substitute with carrot for a sweet treat.



1) Save money and feast on cheap cuts of meat rendered tender and delicious by the pressure cooker.

2) The pressure cooker makes short work of tough food like beans. Green and red bean dessert soups are now a breeze.