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How To Get Started With The Instant Pot And Transform Your Cooking


The year before I married, I lived in Cambodia teaching fifth grade to gifted rural Cambodian students. I ate lunch in the cafeteria and became accustomed to eating rice every day—not the disgusting instant rice Americans are used to, but good rice. I became a rice snob. Since I was teaching kids whose families have been rice farmers for a millenia, can you blame me?

Black Friday two years ago, I had my eye out for one item: A new rice cooker. Mine was on the fritz, burning every batch of rice for weeks. The No. 1 appliance in the “rice cooker” category on Amazon wasn’t an actual rice cooker, but a pressure cooker called an Instant Pot. I didn’t know the difference between a rice cooker, a slow cooker, or a pressure cooker; but the reviews were overwhelming in their enthusiasm about the magic of this machine, so I pulled the trigger.

Then it sat in a box collecting dust for the next several months. As I researched more about this machine I had impulse-purchased because it was on sale, I came to realize I was in too deep. This thing was way more complicated than my old rice cooker. Eventually, however, the quality of the rice coming out of my years-old machine forced me to open the box.

I joined a Facebook group for Instant Pot users and soon learned I could do crazy stuff like make cheesecake (my husband and I hate cheesecake) and cook frozen chicken. On a whim one night, I did the latter, throwing a frozen chicken leg into the pot with some water, consulting Google for how long to cook it under pressure. About half an hour later, I was amazed to find the rock-solid chicken I had put in was now edible. The texture of the meat wasn’t perfect, but it was a remarkable introduction to pressure cooking and the “set it and forget it” charm of cooking in the Instant Pot.

Start with a Good Cookbook

You may, like me, feel overwhelmed at this new machine, which claims to make rice, yogurt, stew, poultry, grains, and more with not just increased speed, but quality. My first suggestion for new Instant Pot owners is this: buy a cookbook marketed for pressure cookers (the Instant Pot-specific ones I’ve seen aren’t of the best quality), and get used to this new method.

I bought half a dozen Instant Pot cookbooks, and only kept one: “The Great Big Pressure Cooker Cookbook.” I’ve also heard good things about the America’s Test Kitchen pressure cooker cookbook (although they snobbishly advise against electric cookers), the Hip Pressure Cooking cookbook (her website is a fantastic resource), and the Vegan Under Pressure cookbook as well. I can’t personally vouch for those three, although I see them repeatedly in the many Instant Pot Facebook groups I’m in, including the one for Kosher keepers I am an administrator for.

Next, Make a Simple Soup

After you open the box and get over the intimidation factor, I recommend starting simple: Make a soup. You can follow one of the recipes in the aforementioned cookbook, or be creative. Fill your pot with some vegetables, pieces of chicken or meat, perhaps a grain or two, and spices. Press the soup button, and enjoy.

Because a pressure cooker seals itself and pressurizes the liquid to cook the food, soups come out intensely flavorful compared to their stovetop counterparts. Because of Instant Pot’s safety measures (the lid is locked when the pot is pressurized), I’ve never felt unsafe using it, unlike with traditional pressure cookers.

Now Try some Grains and Beans

Next up, try your hand at some simple grains or making legumes from dried. If you’ve ever done the latter, you know how much time it takes, but you also realize the financial and health benefits: it’s cheaper to buy dry, easier than carting cans into your pantry, and healthier.

One of the key benefits to pressure cooking is how tender meat comes out, and in a fraction of the time. Feeding a family meat during the week can get pricey (especially when you keep Kosher, as we do), but using the Instant Pot enables us to buy lesser cuts of meat because the pressure inside the pot tenderizes it incredibly. Ribs and chicken fall off the bone, stew meat and pot roast comes out buttery soft, and I hear pork does as well.

There are things the Instant Pot shouldn’t do: don’t cook an expensive steak or a delicate fillet of fish under pressure. But for a tough cut of beef or pork, throw it in.

The Benefits Are Real, Ya’ll

For those of us without the time or patience to stand over the stove and tend to dinner; the Instant Pot is another revelation. You can make risotto with ease, or brown some ground meat before throwing in dried pasta, sauce, and water to make the fastest and easiest pasta carbonara imaginable.

Another family favorite is macaroni and cheese. I heard so many Instant Pot users rave about theirs that the subsequent Black Friday I purchased a second pot for dairy (to maintain Kosher). Because we now have a dairy pot, we’ve also begun making yogurt, which is far easier, cheaper, and tastier than store-bought.

Since purchasing our Instant Pots we’ve given away our slow cookers (I had two), rice cooker, and yoghurt maker. I have a constant supply of easily peeled hardboiled eggs for my husband and kids, who seem to live off them. I have more time outside of the kitchen thanks to less cooking time, fewer dishes, and better-tasting food than ever. The stainless steel pot is a lot easier to clean than the several pots and pans I used to dirty every night.

Despite being an Instant Pot evangelist, I’ve never tried but heard glowing reviews of: cheesecake (my husband and I don’t like it), mussels and clams (a limitation of keeping Kosher), chili, and pork chops.

The Instant Pot can’t do everything in your kitchen, but it can do a heck of a lot, faster and better than any other appliance I’ve ever owned. There’s a reason the machine has developed a cultish following, with many users going so far as to name their pots. Mine is named in honor, or perhaps I should say in memorial, of the hottest thing I know: Paul Ryan’s Beard.

Here Are My 3 Favorite Instant Pot Recipes

Here are three of my standby recipes from the “Great Big Pressure Cooker” cookbook to get you started.

Hamburger Soup

3 cups beef broth
One 14-oz. can of diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 medium green bell peppers, stemmed, cored, and chopped
2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 large yellow potato, diced
¼ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon loosely packed fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1.5 pounds lean ground beef (or chicken or turkey)

Whisk the broth, tomatoes, and tomato paste directly in the pot until the paste dissolves. Stir in the onion, bell peppers, celery, carrots, potato, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper. Rip off chunks of the ground meat in small clumps and throw into the broth.

Lock lid onto the pot and set the valve to sealed. Set the timer to manual for eight minutes. (Note: This is eight minutes under pressure. It takes longer for the pot to heat up enough to come to pressure. You can accelerate the process by completing step one and setting the pot to sauté, so the broth heats up while you are busy chopping vegetables.)

Use the quick-release method (just unseal the valve as soon as the timer goes off) to bring the pot’s pressure back to normal in order to unlock the top.

Note: I increase the amount of broth, vegetables, and meat in this recipe a great deal so we have a thick stew of vegetables and ground meat. The nice thing about pressure cooking is it’s not an exact science. Use as many different vegetables as you want to get the flavor your family likes.

Cranberry and Maple-Glazed Chicken Leg Quarters

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
4 skin-on chicken leg and thigh quarters
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup canned whole-berry cranberry sauce
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons loosely packed fresh sage leaves, minced

Melt the butter or heat up the oil with the sauté button. Season the chicken with the salt and pepper and brown the chicken legs two at a time. Brown well, turning once, about six minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.

Stir in the cranberry sauce, maple syrup, broth, and sage until well combined. Slip the chicken legs back into the pot and ladle some of the sauce over the chicken leg quarters. Lock the lid on the top, set the valve to sealing, and press the poultry or manual button to 18 minutes.

Use the natural release method (instead of the quick-release above, which is best for soups, stews, and non-meat dishes) to release the pressure. Turn the machine off and allow the pot to come back to pressure by itself, which can take between 10-20 minutes. When the silver button next to the valve falls, the pressure is released and the lid is unlocked.

Chicken and Cashew ‘Stir-Fry’

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 large yellow bell pepper, stemmed, cored, and chopped
6 medium scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
3 medium celery stalks, cut into half-inch sections
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1.5 pounds boneless chicken breasts, sliced into quarter-inch strips
1 cup roasted cashews
¼ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch

Heat oil using the sauté function and brown the bell pepper, scallions, celery, and ginger; stir fry for one minute. Add the chicken and cashews and stir-fry for another minute.

Pour in the broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and hoisin sauce; stir well to dissolve the hoisin sauce.

Lock the lid on the top, set the valve to sealing, and cook under pressure using the manual or poultry option for three minutes.

Use the quick-release method to remove the pressure. Set the pot back to sauté. Combine the arrowroot or cornstarch with two teaspoons of water in a small bowl until dissolved. Add the mixture to the pot, stir about 30 seconds until thickened.

Note: I have an extra metal pot liner and make our rice first, remove it, then make the stir fry in a separate pot, staggering the two dishes. Because I’m lazy, while cooking the chicken I put vegetables on top in a steamer basket like this. Three minutes under pressure is too long for most vegetables and they often come out a bit mushy, but I’ll take overcooked vegetables over adding another stage of steaming (which can also be done in the IP) to the dinner-making process. If you’re a perfectionist, you can do the vegetable steaming in short order between the rice and stir-fry. Here is a table of time it takes for vegetables to steam under pressure.