“Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food.” By Jeff Potter, 2nd edition. O’Reilly Media. $39.99

There is so much fascinating information in Jeff Potter’s “Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food” – how marshmallows got their name, how to make ice cream in less than a minute using liquid nitrogen, how it’s OK to store ripe bananas in the fridge (the peel will turn brown, but the fruit will not change) – that it can be hard to focus on the main reason I turn to a cookbook.

Which is, to prepare a decent meal my kids will eat.

So although the nearly two dozen Q&As with various experts (Jim Lahey on Baking, MythBusters cohost Adam Savage on Scientific Testing) sprinkled throughout the 470 pages are enlightening, they’re not all that practical. The book does have recipes, however, even a brief history of the recipe.

Of the 20 recipes offered as Mains, I tried Pulled Pork Under Pressure and Mac’n’Cheese.

The latter, alas, turned out to be rather blah. My kids were just as happy with a box of Annie’s.

The former, which included a note on collagen and how pressure cooking speeds up the process for breaking it down, was even less of a success. My fault, I’m sure, but a sharp editor might have noticed that, following a three-page discussion on Pressure Cookers that includes a warning to never skimp on liquid – “make sure that you have at least a cup or two of water in the unit; otherwise, there won’t be anything to turn into steam and you’ll end up burning the bottom of whatever you’re cooking” – there is a pulled pork recipe on the very next page without any water. In fact, the only liquid called for is a quarter-cup of red wine vinegar and a quarter-cup of ketchup or tomato sauce.

What’s a neophyte to do? Fearful of scorching the pressure cooker – which, of course, you cannot check as the meat is cooking – I tossed in a cup of water and hoped for the best.

(And here’s another thing: the explanation for “brown sugar, unpacked” is “press the sugar down to fit as much into the cup as possible.” To me, that’s packed!)

The result was less than great. The kids ate some of what I sliced off the pork shoulder and the rest went in a slow cooker to simmer overnight.

Next time maybe I’ll try it without the added water. Better yet, I’ll send the book to my daughter. She’s at a tech school, surrounded by geeks. That’s probably the target audience anyway.


Pulled Pork Under Pressure

In a bowl, mix together:

2/3 cup brown sugar, unpacked

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup ketchup or tomato sauce

1 tablespoon paprika

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, of course)

Feel free to improve and add (or drop) whatever spices you like, and then mix to combine.


3-4 pounds pork shoulder or pork butt, with or without bone.

Remove any skin from the pork, the coat the pork on all sides with the seasoning. Transfer the meat to your pressure cooker, add any remaining sauce, and cook under high pressure for 45-60 minutes (possibly longer if your pressure cooker doesn’t go to 15 psi).

After it’s done cooking, transfer the cooked meat to a large bowl and pull the bone out (it should just fall out; if not, cook it longer) along with any large chunks of fat, discarding them. Use two forks to pull the pork apart, tearing and shredding it.

Pour the liquid from the pressure cooker vessel into the bowl – it should be just enough to submerge the meat – and mix together to thoroughly incorporate the sauce into the meat.

Serve on toasted hamburger rolls, on a potato pancake, in a French baguette sliced down the middle, or on top of rice.

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