Posted by Dave Arnold
Danger! Don’t do this at home!
Really, don’t do this at home.
We are working on a pressure cooking primer right now. In the process, an old demo came to mind and I thought I’d post on it.
I wanted to cause Maillard reactions in a wet cooking environment. Maillard reactions, which are responsible for delicious brown flavors, normally take place at temperatures much higher than water can boil. This makes it hard to make a golden-brown boiled potato.
Normal pressure cookers operate at 15 psi. That pressure raises the boiling point of water to 257° F—not normally hot enough to cause Maillard reactions. Only alkaline foods, like egg whites, will brown in a pressure cooker (or even in a normal pot if you cook it for a whole day: see Hamine Eggs in Harold McGee’s book, On Food and Cooking, or in our blog under the sous vide course post).
If you want to do serious browning, you need a higher temperature. A casual glance at a saturated steam table will show you that at a pressure of 150 psi, water will boil at 358° F—more than enough to brown a potato. It just so happens that the schedule 40 pipe I have is rated to 150 psi… So…
Cut a potato to fit the inside of the pipe, add some water, wrap the pipe thread with Teflon tape, screw together TIGHTLY, put in 355° oil and wait 8 minutes. Most likely, the pipe will bubble a bit (it is hard to seal).
As you can see from the photo, the potato turns a dark mahogany all the way through (cause it is 355° all the way through). Even the water turns mahogany.
This experiment taught me that not all Maillard reactions produce good flavors. The Maillard pipe potato tastes awful and smells acrid. Damn it’s bad—but it’s instructive.
BTW, it’s not the brass that makes it taste bad. I’ve tried it with stainless and aluminum as well.