Instant Pot

The Best Use for the Instant Pot

How the electric pressure cooker has changed the way I cook and think about dinner.

September 24, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

Welcome to Set It & Forget It, a new series about all the ways we rely on our Crock-Pots, Instant Pots, and ovens during the colder months. Whether it’s a long braise on the stove or a quick burst in the pressure cooker, one thing’s for sure: Comfort food means comfort cooking.


My husband bought me an Instant Pot on Amazon Day three years ago, after I had dropped hints that I may need to get an electric pressure cooker at some point. The type of food I prefer to cook and eat at home consists largely of stews, after all. There is for me something so satisfying about putting a whole bunch of things into a single pot, letting it simmer for the better part of an afternoon, and then returning to the stove to find something magical.

The only problem with this method of cooking is that it requires a lot of time. If I try to rush a Creole Peruvian stew, for instance, the flavors just won’t develop and dinnertime will be disappointing. These slow-cooked dishes really aren’t made for households in which everyone works outside the home. It seems as if the only way you can consistently put out bowls of fork-tender oxtails or fall-off-the-bone short ribs every day and maintain an active personal life is to be a witch or a wizard with magical powers.

Otherwise, you may find yourself in my situation: You set dates on weekends or holidays for making your favorite stews. You text your partner: “Honey, I’m not leaving the house this Saturday. We’re having goat stew for dinner.” Or you don’t bother making these dishes at home and just enjoy them at restaurants.

Or you get a pressure cooker.

My husband, John, always thinks about my safety and, in particular, my propensity for getting into kitchen accidents (you can read about my mandoline saga here). In his mind, old-school stovetop pressure cookers were just a catastrophe waiting to happen in my clumsy hands. John also has a passion for technology; meanwhile, I’m still learning to live with a food processor (I still hand-grate bread for bread crumbs).

The Instant Pot seemed to offer the solution: It was a pressure cooker, it was safe, and it was the latest in convenience-appliance technology.

While you’ve probably come across countless recipes that detail the innovative things you can do with an Instant Pot, I find that this 21st-century kitchen essential (let’s be truthful here) is your best tool for cooking old-school classics like the ones Abuela made. In my kitchen, this means that I am able to make Peruvian dishes that ordinarily take forever, like beef trotters in peanut sauce or braised tripe in turmeric and mint sauce—on a weeknight, no less. Pre-Instant Pot, I would have had to make plans well in advance for this kind of involved slow cooking.

And that brings me to the best part about having an Instant Pot: I can indulge in more impulse cooking. If my local Latin grocery has a sale on turkey necks, for instance, I can grab them and cook them that very day knowing it will take me less than an hour with a pressure cooker versus four times as long on the stove. And because the best meat for stews is typically the most inexpensive (with a few exceptions), I end up saving on groceries too.

One day, my local Latin grocery had a sale on veal stew meat. The styrofoam package contained gristle, bony chunks of pale pink meat with a lot of fat (stuff that would have ordinarily been thrown out in most mainstream grocery stores). I put the package of veal in my basket and grabbed some carrots, mushrooms, and a bottle of red wine. When I got home, I threw everything into my Instant Pot with some herbs, red wine, and a spoonful of tomato paste, and set it for 45 minutes. By the time John got home, we had a soul-warming pot of veal bourguignon waiting for us, Carlos-style.

I later found that the same approach works beautifully with other tough cuts of meat, including stew beef. What’s important is to get the gnarliest chunks of meat that still contain a lot of the connective tissue and bone. This will give your stew more body due to the release of collagen as well a deeper, richer flavor.

What's your favorite thing to cook in the Instant Pot? Let us know in the comments below.

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ann Smyth Horton
    Ann Smyth Horton
  • Annada Rathi
    Annada Rathi
  • HalfPint
    HalfPint
  • Carlos C. Olaechea
    Carlos C. Olaechea
  • DoubleNegative
    DoubleNegative
Comment
I was born in Peru to a Limeño father and a Texan mother. We moved to Miami when I was five, and I grew up in the "Kendall-suyo" neighborhood—often called the 5th province of the Inca Empire because of its large Peruvian population. I've been writing about food since I was 11 years old, and in 2016 I received a master's degree in Gastronomy from Boston University. A travel columnist at Food52, I'm currently based in Hollywood, Florida—another vibrant Peruvian community—where I am a writer, culinary tour guide, and consultant.

11 Comments

Ann S. September 29, 2019
Hmmmm... besides making dinners, I frequently make broth from left-over vegetable scraps that I keep adding to in a bag in my freezer. When I need broth, I just dump the bag in the pot, cover with water, usually had bay leaves, some fish sauce, a little salt & pepper, sometimes cardamom pods smashed. If I have some bones, I'll put those in there as well. I set it for about an hour & then strain it when I get around to it. So I always have broth for making rice, pasta, sauces, poaching chicken, etc.

Another thing I really like to make is garbanzo beans or black beans for hummus. Because I'm going to purée them, I extra-cook them ~ 1 hr.

And I make boiled peanuts for snacks. I find in my big pot, it takes about 1 hr, plus letting them sit on low until I get around to it.

In regard to rice, I have had great success with PIP (pot-in-pot) technique as it comes out perfect & it doesn't stick to either my pottery or my stainless steel pans I use. I give it 7 mins on high and let it stay on low until dinner is ready (I'm not a fan of cold rice).
 
Annada R. September 25, 2019
Hi Carlos, I'm loving my Instant Pot too. It works perfectly for my beans and lentils, though not so much for rice!
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. September 25, 2019
Rice can be hit or miss. It makes good Latin American style rice, which is oily and salty and cooked like a pilaf. It makes sushi rice well, too. But if I get basmati rice or something special like that, I'll do it the old fashioned way. The instant pot is also great for cooking potatoes quickly. Do it on the steam function
 
HalfPint September 24, 2019
I got my Instant Pot on Amazon Prime Day - and I still haven't used it. Looking for a good recipe to christen my IP. As soon as the weather stays permanently cool (it's supposed to be 90F + today and tomorrow), I think I'm going to make this :)
 
DoubleNegative September 25, 2019
Do it, Half Pint, do it!! Take the plunge...it'll change your life if you let it. I live in New Orleans where heat and humidity is the norm; I use the IP for everything, steel cut oats, beans, pasta, all kind of meat like ribs, chicken and pork shoulder, cakes, flan, and best of all, dulce de leche. The IP saves me from needing to have the oven or stove going for long periods and releases virtually no heat (unless you quick release, but even that is minimal). There's a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it is sooooo worth it. It's great for stews and soups in cold weather, sure, but is so much more versatile than just that. Oh, and um, cheesecake.
And thanks, Carlos, if we ever get relief from this endless summer, I'll be making this then too.
 
Eric K. September 25, 2019
I'm surprised you haven't already!! Enjoy!
 
DoubleNegative September 25, 2019
Ha!! Thanks, Eric, I'm sure I will (and soon). Can you tell I reallllly love my Instant Pot? Keep the honest, amazing, touching and most importantly, yummy articles coming, please. I'll never tire of Jean's Kimchi Fried Rice. xo
 
Char777 October 7, 2019
Hi DoubleNegative:
I totally understand what heat and humidity can do the desire to heat up the kitchen with cooking! I live in Phoenix where we've had temps of 117°F this summer!
I have an Instant Pot but have been a little intimidated and haven't tried it out yet! Can you recommend a good, easy "Christening Recipe" to make, to banish my fear of screwing up everything by using my Instant Pot? Lol
Seriously, I'm not totally afraid to use it.... Life, high temps and moving to a new home have all contributed to me putting my Instant Pot on the back burner, so to speak.
I'm originally from Houston, not that far from New Orleans, and totally understand humidity and what it can do to anyone's cooking desire!
We'll both have to hang in here and wait for those cooler temperatures that are just around the corner! I'm envious of all you're cooking with your Instant Pot and can't wait until I can make all those dishes, too! Lol I loved reading your post! It was inspiring to a newbie!
 
DoubleNegative October 7, 2019
Aww, that's sweet, Char777, I'm glad I could be inspiring!! But, where to start? Don't laugh, but if you actually read the instruction booklet that comes with the IP, the first thing they teach you to do is pressure cook water, then do a quick release, this does three things, it teaches you the basic mechanisms of using the IP; and if you're like me and grew up thinking that pressure cookers were a French conspiracy to blow us all to kingdom come, it gets you past that fear; and finally, it tests the IP to make sure it came from the factory in good working condition. If you don't get steam, something went wrong and all you ruined was water. So once you (and your IP) pass this test, I'd say then move onto a recipe. These are two of my favorite websites devoted to IP cookery; https://www.pressurecookrecipes.com/ and https://www.hippressurecooking.com/ . Both of these sites test and re-test every recipe so they are pretty sure fire in my experience, and Laura Pazzaglia over at hippressurecooking has tons of basic information and charts for cooking times of all manner of food. I would definitely read what she has to say about learning to pressure cook, it helped me a lot when I started out. If you just want to get to cooking without a ton of studying up front (I'm more of a planner/worrier type personality, myself), I would start with a basic recipe from one of these sites I mentioned for a pot of beans or mashed potatoes, or maybe a pulled pork shoulder and when you have the hang of it, graduate to more nuanced recipes like Carlos' Beef Bourguignon, or this classic, https://food52.com/recipes/78019-archana-mundhe-s-instant-pot-butter-chicken. If you're using the saute function, I suggest staying on low, my garlic will burn in no time on medium or high (just sayin') in my IP Duo 60. I hope this is helpful, if a bit wordy and I realize doesn't directly answer your question. If there is something specific that you want to make, let me know and I'll see if I can help you find a good source for it. Good luck, now go make something yummy!! You got this, Char. Here's hoping it cools off soon. ;)
 
Eric K. October 7, 2019
I'm loving this rich and wholesome Instant Pot support thread.
 
Char777 October 7, 2019
Hi DoubleNegative:
Thank you for your recommendations and information on how to use the Instant Pot. To be honest, I haven't read the instruction booklet that came with my Instant Pot 6 qt cooker. That's because my Instant Pot is still in the box and hasn't been opened! I know... It's very sad! Now that we've moved, I'm planning on breaking it out and giving it a go. There's just been so much going on that I wanted to wait and be able to take my time to learn to use it correctly. Your resources will help me a lot! Thanks so much for all your assistance. 🙂