For me, cooking is fun. It’s a hobby, and there are few things I enjoy more than spending an entire Saturday afternoon assembling an elaborate dish that will wow my dinner guests.
Sadly, this personal passion doesn’t jibe with my real life.
In real life, I get home from work and face a hungry family ready to eat NOW. Even worse, many members of that family are severely limited in the types of dishes they'll eat without strenuous objections. Two won’t touch mushrooms. One hates onions in any form. Two have red sauce aversions. All claim they’re sick of the same old recipes – tacos, burgers, meatloaf, spaghetti – but they have zero ideas about what they’d like to eat instead.
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This very real struggle is what inspired me to join the growing cult of Instant Pot, an old-fashioned pressure cooker that’s been repackaged and re-imagined for the modern cook. These new-fangled versions, though, are relatively easy to use, electric, sit on the counter and pose virtually no danger of exploding. They’re like a faster, more versatile answer to the slow cooker.
The biggest perk is: They cook food fast. They’re particularity magical at turning out grains, beans and meats in minutes instead of hours.
I’d been hearing interesting things about the Instant Pot ever since it was featured as part of a Black Friday deal on Amazon.com. One friend ordered one and said she liked it. Another friend ordered one and said she loved it. Then, just after Christmas, my best friend, Jaime, got her Instant Pot.
It’s all she’s talked about since.
Jaime’s a good cook, but she’s not an enthusiastic one. She isn’t the type of person who keeps a super-stocked pantry or refrigerator, and she likes to eat healthy. Her husband is a great cook, but his culinary masterpieces often require hours of preparation. She saw the Instant Pot as a way to cook food at home quickly so she could feed her toddler, herself and her husband healthful meals.
First, she cooked a chicken. Then she turned the broth from that chicken into soup. She made pulled pork. Then more pulled pork. Then green chili. Then red chili. Then beef stew. Her husband made corned beef, which he turned into a pre-St. Patrick’s Day feast. To hear them tell it, the total time spent on cooking all these feasts was about 15 minutes.
OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but their enthusiasm for this cooking device is unbridled. (Jaime is deep into planning a “Pot Party” for all the people she’s persuaded to purchase this device.)
I was sold, so I ordered one. Back during that Black Friday sale, an Instant Pot could be acquired for about $70. Now at basic version is $99 on Amazon.com and Target.com and goes up to $175 or $189 for larger versions or features like Bluetooth.
After a couple of demos from Jaime, I was ready to try a few recipes on my own. I helped her make some green chili (delicious). Then I cooked a pot roast with potatoes and carrots for my picky eaters. (They loved it.) Finally, I made a restaurat-quality Mongolian beef in less than an hour, and my family declared me amazing.
Here’s what I’ve learned as an Instant Pot owner.
▪ It’s a time-saver – to a point: As a seasoned home cook, I appreciate that the Instant Pot in 30 minutes or less can create the kind of tender, flavorful meat that usually takes hours and hours to achieve. It also cooks things like rice and steel-cut oats, but in my opinion, by the time you prep the recipe, wait for the pot to “come to pressure,” then wait for it to cook and cool down, you could have made these items on the stove just as quickly.
▪ It’s not as hard to use as it seems: The pot has lots of buttons, and the “come to pressure” concept is hard to understand until you try it. Basically, it takes the pot about 10 minutes to work up the required cooking pressure before the actually cooking time starts. But once you use the pot a few times, it all becomes clearer.
▪ It cuts down on mess: One of the benefits of the Instant Pot is that, unlike regular slow cookers, cooks can brown and saute right in the pot. This seriously cuts down on the number of dishes you'll have to clean when you’re done cooking.
▪ It performs some cool tricks: The Instant Pot provides shortcuts for many everyday cooking activities, from hard-boiling eggs to baking potatoes.
▪ Recipes are readily available: I haven’t yet figured out how to turn a regular recipe into an Instant Pot recipe, but the device has become so popular, a quick search of “Instant Pot recipes” will provide you with plenty of options. Though there are other digital pressure cookers on the market, I like to search using the brand name “Instant Pot” because it gives clearer information on which buttons to push.
▪ We don’t eat enough porridge: There’s a “porridge” button on the pot. I’m not sure when any of us might use that, but maybe we should reconsider.
Instant Pot Green Chili
1 pound ground beef, browned
6 tomatillos, quartered
1 onion, chopped
4 poblano peppers, chopped
3 Anaheim peppers, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt
Queso blanco cheese
Fresh corn tortillas and lime wedges for serving
Brown beef on saute mode in Instant Pot. Remove and set aside.
Add tomatillos, onion, poblano peppers, Anaheim peppers, garlic, cumin and salt to pressure cooker. Heat on saute mode until gently sizzling, then seal pressure cooker, bring to high pressure, and cook for 15 minutes.
Manually release pressure. Blend vegetables with hand mixer, then return beef to pot. Stir and serve with lime wedges and tortillas. Top with cheese.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
Instant Pot Mongolian Beef
2 pounds flank steak, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons water
3 green onions, sliced into 1-inch pieces
Hot cooked rice for serving
Season beef with salt and pepper. Put oil in the cooking pot and select Browning. When oil begins to sizzle, brown meat in batches until all meat is browned – do not crowd. Transfer meat to a plate as each batch browns.
Add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Add soy sauce, 1/2 cup water, brown sugar and ginger. Stir to combine.
Return browned beef and any accumulated juices to the pot. Select High Pressure. Set timer for 12 minutes.
When beep sounds, turn cooker off and use a quick pressure release. When valve drops, carefully remove the lid.
Combine the cornstarch and 3 tablespoons water, whisking until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture to the sauce in the pot, stirring constantly. Select Simmer and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Stir in green onions.
Serve over rice.
Yield: About 6 servings.
Pressure Cooker Pot Roast
From www.pressurecookrecipes.com, with additional instructions if you’re using an Instant Pot.
1 to 3 pounds chuck roast
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 small onions, sliced
1 cup unsalted homemade chicken stock
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pinch of dried rosemary
1 pinch of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar to deglaze
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
8 white mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
2 to 4 potatoes, quartered
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
Prepare the cooker: Heat up your pressure cooker. (Instant Pot: Press Saute button and click the adjust button to go to Saute More function). Make sure your pot is as hot as it can be when you place the chuck roast into the pot. (Instant Pot: wait until the indicator says HOT). This will promote browning and prevent excessive moisture loss.
Prepare the chuck roast: Pat dry with a paper towel. When the pressure cooker is hot, season the chuck roast with generous amount of kosher salt and ground black pepper.
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the pot. Make sure to coat the oil over the whole bottom of the pot. Add the seasoned chuck roast into the pot, then let it brown for 10 minutes on each side (don’t need to keep flipping). Remove and set aside on a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium. (Instant Pot: Press Cancel button, then press Saute button). Add in the sliced onions and stir. Add a pinch of kosher salt and ground black pepper if you like. Cook the onions for about 1 minute, until softened. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and season with another pinch of kosher salt if you like. Stir and cook for 2 minutes longer.
Pour in a dash of red wine or balsamic vinegar and deglaze the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
Add 1 cup of chicken stock, 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, 1 pinch of dried rosemary, 1 pinch of thyme and 2 bay leaves into the pressure cooker. Taste the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired.
Place the chuck roast and any juices back into the pot. Close lid and cook at High Pressure for 45 minutes.
Turn off the heat. Do not touch; let the pressure fall naturally, about 25 minutes. Open the lid carefully.
Remove the chuck roast and set aside. Cover the chuck roast with aluminum foil and let it rest while pressure cooking the vegetables. Immerse the quartered potatoes into the sauce and stack the chopped carrots on top of the potatoes. Close lid and pressure cook at high pressure for 4 minutes. Cover the vent with a towel and do a Quick Release. Open the lid carefully.
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Mix 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water and mix it into the sauce one-third at a time until desired thickness.
Slice the meat against the grain and serve with the vegetables and gravy.