My Instant Pot obsession started innocently enough, with a resolution to finally crack down on processed food.
Guess what? Unprocessed food takes time and attention. A good pot of brown rice takes 45 minutes or more, and still didn't soften enough to suit me. Steel-cut oats? There goes a half-hour and I scorched way too many pots because of other morning distractions.
Then I started hearing from friends about the Instant Pot, a culinary Swiss Army knife that does it all: pressure-cooks, steams, slow-cooks, makes yogurt and probably does your laundry if it finds a spare minute.
Electric pressure cooking may be what the Instant Pot is best known for. If you're like me, the traditional pressure cooker has always sounded slightly terrifying in a scraping-sauce-off-the-ceiling kind of way. The genius of the Instant Pot is that it takes away the worry. First, you physically cannot open the pot while it's under pressure, so the "danger" is gone.
My first foray — steel-cut oatmeal — was magical: creamy and tender, with a deep oat flavor. The recipe in the accompanying booklet calls it 3-minute oatmeal. That's a little misleading. The pot needs to build pressure before cooking and to release it afterward, so you should add 10 to 15 minutes on the front and back ends to whatever cooking time you see. That said, the attraction here is that, unlike your stovetop pot, your Instant Pot requires no watching.
Oatmeal, black beans, farro, lentils, frozen chicken, pork tenderloin, chili — whatever you're cooking, once you punch in the time and lock the lid, you walk away.
After a week or so, the slow cooker that had been with me since college was relegated to the basement. A week after that, the Dutch oven went there, too, along with the cast-iron braiser. I may still use them occasionally, but the Instant Pot has become a mainstay. I can come home from work, throw in dried chickpeas, water and seasonings, walk the dog and come home to a creamy potful, ready for add-ons.
Over the holidays my son invited several college friends to watch football. I went to the freezer, unwrapped a rock-hard turkey tenderloin, added a packet of Frontera slow-cook chipotle chicken sauce, cut up red and green peppers and a large onion. I set the timer for 20 minutes and said a little prayer (these boys were hungry). When it beeped, I released the steam, shredded the meat, now tender and well-cooked. Unlike a slow cooker, nothing was mushy and everything still tasted like itself.
The Instant Pot does take a little getting used to. It has a number of presets, but like microwave ovens with all the buttons, you'll most often use the manual setting.
It does some things you wouldn't expect, like easy-to-peel hard-cooked eggs. It can steam half a dozen baking potatoes to fluffy perfection in about 20 minutes. The skin won't be crisp, but a brush of olive oil and 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven takes care of that. I've used stacking bamboo steamer baskets to steam frozen salmon fillets and a green vegetable in — no kidding — 5 minutes of pressure time.
The Instant Pot is genius for stock, yielding a rich-tasting broth in about 40 minutes for chicken. Vegetable broth is even shorter, about 20 minutes. If you're into what's called "bone broth," the 24 to 48 hours that bones have to cook on the stove is condensed to a few hours in the Instant Pot.
There are a couple of rules to remember: First, check the vent. My initial effort resulted in a pool of water on the counter (and floor) because I failed to close the vent. Instead of building pressure, the pot releases moisture. Lots of moisture.
Second, be wary of dairy. Dairy froths at high temperatures, sometimes right into the aforementioned vent, where it can clog. If you like milk in your oatmeal, as I do, reduce the amount of water and add that much milk at the end.
Third, don't ever submerge the lid in water. That's where the electronics live.
Finally, pay attention to recipes that denote whether you should let pressure release naturally or do a quick release after a certain number of minutes, or some combination of both. Those times are designed to prevent food from overcooking, which can happen fast when it's under that much pressure. I cooked a whole chicken in 25 minutes, as instructed, and found it way overdone for my taste. I now do it in less than 20 minutes.
It's been months since I got my Instant Pot and I've now gotten into an easy weekend rhythm of batch cooking that sets up the week. Brown rice, which never cooked up tender enough for me on the stove, is done in about 25 minutes using just 1 ¼ cups of water for a cup of rice. Don't use the rice preset, by the way; the manual or multigrain setting is better.
Black beans are a great example of what the Instant Pot does best — making short work of long-cooking beans and grains. I've made black beans all my life, but pressurized cooking does something extra that's hard to beat. There are lots of recipes out there, but I simply dump a generous cup of dry black beans, water to cover by a couple of inches, some dried chiles (I use guajillo or New Mexico chiles, which are not really hot), a cube of bouillon and a little bacon fat or olive oil. Don't worry about adding salt to your beans before they're cooked. Turns out that is an old wives' tale. The result is a pot of well-seasoned beans.
You can still soak your beans, but you really don't have to. I've made chickpeas from dried to finished in under an hour. When you make chickpeas, plan for at least 1 cup in leftovers. Toss those and some of the cooking liquid into a food processor or a blender, add a couple of dollops of tahini, the juice of half a lemon, a drizzle of olive oil and salt, and you have hummus in under 15 minutes.
If you have za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, sprinkle it generously on top and drizzle more olive oil. I made this for a book club and it was gone in, well, an instant.
"How to Instant Pot," by Daniel Shumski, has a great recipe for Fragrant Lamb and Chickpea Stew that lists a prep time of 1 hour and 30 minutes. But once you have used the sauté function to brown the lamb, added the spices, dried chickpeas and other ingredients, it's as simple as closing the lid, cooking for 45 minutes and letting the pressure release for the next 30 minutes. You get to do what you want — go for a run, help the kids with homework, put your feet up. Then dish it up, add some chopped herbs and a spoonful of yogurt, and dinner isready.
I don't do much in the way of desserts, but I couldn't resist trying dulce de leche, a rich, caramel-like syrup made entirely out of sweetened condensed milk. It's a common dessert in Hispanic households, but one that always seemed to me fraught with danger. My mother, like other cooks, used to peel the label off a can of Carnation sweetened condensed milk and submerge the entire can in a pot of water, where it would simmer for three to four hours while its insides turned a thick, dark brown. She had to keep a watchful eye — air exposure can cause the can's seam to split and even explode.
The Instant Pot, however, makes short work of this beloved sweet. The other night I, too, carefully peeled the label off. But using instructions from Melissa Clark in "Dinner in an Instant," I opened the top, tightly wrapped it with aluminum foil and set it on the steamer rack that comes with the pot. I added water to halfway up the can and set it on manual for 40 minutes. When the pressure had released, the result was a tan, creamy rendition of childhood memories.
Not being a child anymore, however, I spiked mine liberally with honey bourbon and sprinkled on a little coarse sea salt. Poured over strawberries or as a dip for apples, it makes a satisfying and not too unhealthy indulgence. Next time I would probably cook mine for 45 or even 50 minutes, to see if I could darken it.
There is something fun and enticing about this little device. Maybe it's the all-in-one nature that means I don't have to dirty an extra pan to sauté. Maybe it's because I get to walk away and let it do its thing. Whatever the reason, it has a permanent spot on my counter now, waiting to make the next batch of red lentil soup with mint oil, steamed butternut squash or maybe just a batch of wheat berries to use in salad.
Fragrant Lamb and Chickpea Stew for Instant Pot
Note: This is a hearty, flavorful and healthy dish that keeps well and looks good enough to serve at a dinner party. If you can plan ahead, season the lamb a day in advance. The extra time really gives it extra punch. Adapted from "How to Instant Pot," by Daniel Shumski.
• 1 tbsp. ground cumin
• 1 tbsp. ground coriander
• 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
• Generous pinch of cayenne pepper (at least 1/2 tsp.)
• 1/4 tsp. salt, plus extra as needed
• 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 2 lb. boneless lamb, such as shoulder, cut into 2-in. cubes
• 1 tbsp. neutral cooking oil
• 2 medium onions, chopped
• 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped.
• 1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes with juices
• 3/4 c. reduced-salt chicken broth or any homemade chicken stock
• 1 (3-in.) cinnamon stick
• 1/2 c. dried chickpeas, rinsed, drained and picked over to remove debris
• Fresh chopped cilantro, for garnish
• Dollop of plain yogurt, for garnish
Combine the cumin, coriander, cloves, cayenne, salt and black pepper. Add the lamb cubes, toss to coat and set aside.
Press "Sauté" on the Instant Pot. Add oil in the inner pot and give it 1 minute to warm, then sauté onions and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes. Push aside and add the lamb cubes, sautéing just until they get a little brown. Stir in the tomatoes, broth, cinnamon stick and chickpeas.
Close and lock the lid. Set the value to "Sealing." Press "Cancel" to stop the "Sauté" function and press "Manual." Make sure it is set to high pressure (this should happen automatically, but check anyway). Set the timer to 45 minutes. Remember, it will take a little time to build pressure, so total time in the pot will be closer to an hour.
The pot will beep when the cooking cycle ends. Press "Cancel" and allow pressure to release naturally, which should take about 30 minutes. This is important, because the lamb continues to cook during this time.
Remove the lid, discard the cinnamon stick and adjust the seasonings. Serve with a generous portion of the broth and fresh cilantro and yogurt for garnish. This will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories240Fat10 gSodium300 mg
Carbohydrates15 gSaturated fat3 gTotal sugars6 g
Protein24 gCholesterol65 mgDietary fiber5 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, 3 lean protein, 1 fat.
Eggs Cooked Hard or Soft for Instant Pot
Makes a variable amount.
Note: So why would you cook eggs in the Instant Pot when it is no faster than on the stovetop? One word: peeling. Pressure-cooked eggs are absurdly easy to peel, with the shells practically slipping off even very fresh eggs. The pressure works to naturally separate the shell from the interior of the egg. You can cook as many or as few eggs as you want; the time does not change. You can adjust the cooking time to get either soft- or hard-cooked eggs (the times listed below are for large eggs). Start the week with a small stash of hard-cooked eggs so you have a quick breakfast on the run, eggs ready for a spinach salad or the occasional egg salad sandwich. Adapted from "Dinner in an Instant," by Melissa Clark.
• Large eggs
Fill a bowl with ice water and place it next to the appliance.
Insert the steamer rack trivet into the Instant Pot. Add 1 cup water. Place the eggs on the rack, forming a pyramid if you're cooking a lot of them.
Press the "Egg" setting if you have it, otherwise press "Manual" and make sure it's set to low pressure. If you're into "jammy" eggs, where the yolk stays soft and moist, set the timer to 5 minutes for very jammy, almost like a soft-boiled egg; 6 minutes if you like them a little more set, and 8 minutes for firmly hard-cooked eggs.
Allow the pressure to release naturally, then use tongs to lift the eggs into the bowl of cold water, to stop the cooking.
Nutrition information per large egg:
Calories80Fat5 gSodium60 mg
Carbohydrates1 gSaturated fat2 gTotal sugars1 g
Protein6 gCholesterol190 mgDietary fiber0 g
Garlicky Cuban Pork for Instant Pot
Serves 8 to 10.
Note: This is a great weekend dish that can also provide the stuff of enviable lunches. The pork is enlivened by a good hit of cumin, garlic, citrus and oregano. Pressure cooking intensifies the flavors and renders the meat as tender as if you'd braised it for hours. Don't flinch at the amount of garlic. It's just right. Adapted from "Dinner in an Instant," by Melissa Clark.
• 8 garlic cloves
• Juice of 1 grapefruit (about 2/3 c.) or orange juice
• Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
•2 tbsp. brown sugar
• 1 tbsp. fresh oregano, or 1 1/2 tsp. dried
•2 tsp. ground cumin, or to taste
•1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt, or to taste
• 1 (4- to 5-lb.) boneless pork shoulder, cut into 4 pieces
• 1 bay leaf
• Fresh chopped cilantro, for serving
• Lime wedges, for serving
• Salsa or hot sauce, for serving
• Tortillas, for serving
Use a blender or mini food processor to combine the garlic, grapefruit juice, lime zest and juice, 2 tablespoons oil, brown sugar, oregano, cumin and salt. Process till blended. Transfer to a large bowl and add the pork and bay leaf; toss to combine. Marinate, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate for up to 6 hours.
Using the "Sauté" function set on high if available, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the pressure cooker (or use a large skillet). Remove the pork from the marinade (reserving the marinade), and shake the meat to remove any excess liquid. Cook until it is browned on all sides, about 12 minutes (you will need to do this in batches, transferring browned pork to a plate as you go).
When all the pork is browned, return the pieces to the pot, along with any juices from the plate. Add the reserved marinade to the pot. Cover and cook on high pressure for 80 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
Remove the pork from the cooking liquid. Taste the liquid and, if it seems bland or too thin, boil it down either in the pressure cooker on the Sauté setting or in a separate pot on the stove until it thickens slightly and intensifies in flavor, 7 to 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and adjust the seasonings.
Shred the pork with your hands or 2 forks. Toss the meat with the juices to taste. Don't skip this step. The liquid will help flavor the meat and keep it moist. Serve with warmed tortillas, cilantro, lime and a good salsa. Or add some pickled red onions, freshly diced avocados and thinly sliced radishes to add visual appeal.
Nutrition information per each of 10 servings (without tortillas, salsa or garnishes):
Calories400Fat25 gSodium920 mg
Carbohydrates5 gSaturated fat8 gTotal sugars3 g
Protein38 gCholesterol110 mgDietary fiber0 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, 5 medium-fat protein.