I discover pressure cooking — and love the results.
Yesterday, experimented with a cooking technique that rocked my culinary world: pressure cooking.
The Instant Pot
For years, I thought the only way to get a nice, rich stew with fork-tender pieces of meat was to slow cook it for five or more hours, often in a crock pot. With cool autumn weather coming on, I started thinking about new recipes for hearty stews — comfort food after a long day outdoors hiking or doing yard work. Trouble was, I’d sacrificed my old crock pot — which had to be at least 25 years old — to beeswax processing duties and it was no longer fit to make a meal. I’d done this on purpose to force me to buy a new one with modern features and the time had arrived.
Of course, I’d also been thinking about something to make it easier for me to make yogurt. And I’d been told over and over by friends that I needed a rice cooker. I’d already gotten an ice cream maker. With my mixer, toaster, food processor, and similarly sized appliances, the pantry shelf I’d dedicated to countertop appliance storage was quickly filling up. The ice cream maker and bread machine were already stored in the garage because I didn’t expect to use them very often. I didn’t want any more appliances than I needed. (And, as usual, I use the word “need” very loosely here.)
- pressure cooker
- slow cooker
- rice cooker
- yogurt maker
My experience with the computer world taught me one thing: if any piece of software or device claims to do multiple, only slightly related things, it won’t do any of them well. Think about integrated software like Microsoft Works. Word processor, spreadsheet, database all in one package. But none of those pieces were powerful enough for a serious user.
I figured how good could this be? I kept looking.
But I kept coming back to the Instant Pot. With a 4+ rating from 3,960 customer reviews, it had to be good. I started reading reviews.
And I was sold. I bought one last week.
I won’t go into details about the Instant Pot — after all, this is not a product review. I’ll just say that it seems to be well designed and easy to use. I like the stainless steel pot. It’s a good size that fits nicely on my kitchen island when in use and on the shelf in my pantry when not in use.
The Instant Pot comes with two books: an instruction manual in multiple languages and a recipe book in English and what looks like Chinese. Why Chinese? Well, not only is this made in China (like the rest of the merchandise sold in this country), but many of the recipes have an Asian flair. Apparently, devices like this are popular in Asia.
I needed a recipe for its inaugural use, so it made sense to take a recipe from the recipe booklet. These were written specifically for this device and instructions tell you exactly which buttons to push. For example, you start by sautéing onions and browning meat using the sauté feature. Then you seal it up and switch to pressure cooking with that feature. The instructions tell you which buttons to push, thus giving you a use tutorial. It was great to be able to cook the entire meal in one dishwasher-safe pot.
Anyway, here’s the recipe without the Instant Pot-specific instructions; if you have a pressure cooker, you can probably make this at home in yours.
- 2-1/2 to 3 pounds of lamb shoulder, cut into pieces. Lamb is not a big seller here in Washington state and I was fortunate enough to be at the supermarket when several packages of lamb were marked 50% off for quick sale. I bought 3 racks of lamb and a boneless leg of lamb that day, saving about $30, and popped them all in my chest freezer. Yesterday, I pulled out that leg of lamb, defrosted it, and cut it into pieces for this recipe.
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed. I got lazy and used about a teaspoon of garlic powder.
- 2 onions, roughly sliced
- 10 oz prunes, or a mix of dry apricots and raisins. I used the prunes. I actually like prunes.
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup vegetable stock. I used water plus 1-1/2 tablespoons of Better than Bouillion. (Next time, I’ll reduce this to 1/2 cup total liquid.)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 tbsp honey. I used honey from my own bees, of course.
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 1/2 oz almonds, toasted
- sesame seeds
- Mix the cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil to make a paste. Spread the paste over the meat and set aside.
- Put the prunes in a bowl and add enough boiling water to cover. Cover and set aside.
- Heat a pan and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onions. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes.
- Remove the onions and set aside.
- Add meat to pan and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.
- Add the vegetable broth and deglaze the pan, scraping all browned bits into the sauce.
- Put the meat, broth, onions, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick into a pressure cooker. Seal and cook for 35 minutes.
- At the end of the cooking cycle, allow pressure to release on its own. That could take up to 20 minutes. Open the cooker when safe.
- Add drained, rinsed prunes and honey.
- Reduce the liquid by simmering, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle with toasted almonds and sesame seeds and serve.
The best part about the Instant Pot is that all of the cooking steps can be done in the same pot. No moving ingredients from one cooking vessel to another when switching from sauté to pressure cook to sauté. So at the end of all this, there’s just one pot to clean and the countertop stays remarkably neat.
The Big Surprise
I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting anything special. After all, I’d only cooked the meat for a total of 45 minutes. How tender could it possibly be?
The answer: very tender. The meat was moist but tender enough to break up with a fork. And it was absolutely delicious. I served it over a mixture of rice and quinoa.
So, as you can imagine, I’m thrilled with pressure cooking as an alternative to the all-day crock pot routine. Look at the facts: the pressure cooker enabled me to cook a good, hearty stew that was both tender and tasty, in less than an hour. Who wouldn’t be thrilled?
Got a pressure-cooker recipe to share? Leave a comment on this post so we can all see and try it.