I, the Soup Lady of the 24-quart pot that takes up two burners, of bone broth simmering on the stove two days, permeating my house with umami-like down-and-dirty beef and onions, or the easier-on-the-nose chicken and onions, who must shut the door against the smarmy air so I can sleep with ear plugs, stove vent buzzing, air filter raging, neighbors aware of nostril-curling beef broth wafting over the balcony to theirs.
And the clean up.
It really is a drawn-out process to make bone broth. It is because of the above tasks that I say: I am in love with my new pressure cooker, the Instant Pot.
There. Said. The Instant Pot is a phenomenon that has struck home kitchens like Silly Putty did to 60s-era kids. They are wild about it. There’s a Facebook group with more than 400,000 members; I am one.
I grew up with a stovetop pressure cooker that my mother used regularly. The little shaking valve on top hissed and steamed and was dangerous, though nothing dramatic ever happened except its climactic finale – piercing the kitchen with its shriek and steam. Mom tended it and soon seven hungry people tucked into a tasty meal that evening.
Regarding another well-used gadget, I’ve harbored a conundrum about the electric slow cooker. It brags of tender, fall-off-the-bone meat simmering in its juices. After years of using it, it registered in my mind that the meat comes out dry and stringy. I summized the fat must be cooked out of it. At least that was my theory. I researched it.
The internet said I am correct. Slow Cooker meat becomes dry because the juice and fat is drawn out of it over those hours. Between Slow Cooker and Pressure Cooker, I hesitate to say it, but I’ll gladly take a little more pressure in my life.
Recently, short on time and needing to make minestrone soup, I “soaked” some flageolet beans in the Instant Pot. Here’s how:
- Rinse beans
- 1 cup of beans to 4 cups of water
- Pressure cook on manual for 4 minutes
- Let sit for 10 minutes of “Keep Warm.”
- Strain and rinse.
Voila, soaked beans. After that, I made the soup. Using a pressure cooker, I cooked the soup along with the uncooked beans, saving several hours. I also poached a whole chicken in it, the first step in Italian Wedding Soup. Then I made beautiful broth from the carcass in one hour, with only a light-weight stainless steel insert to clean.
Let’s review that day’s accomplishments:
- Soaked dry beans
- Minestrone soup made with the beans all at once. Normally I soak them overnight; the next day cook the beans on stove or in oven separately; cook soup on stove for several hours, adding cooked beans at the end.
See how easy? Getting the idea?
- Poached a chicken.
- Used the poaching liquid for Italian Wedding soup.
- Made more bone broth with the chicken carcass.
I don’t know, there’s something exciting about the Instant Pot. Is it really quick, easy and more delicious? Many years ago, a French friend, incredulous that I didn’t use a pressure cooker, explained that the food remains more nutritious when pressure cooked. I didn’t care; I was blissfully spooning with Alice Waters, Marcella Hazan and Deborah Madison.
Yes, I know we don’t need another electric gadget to cook soup or broth or a large hunk of meat. Really, we can get by with one small and one large pot, and one frying pan. And slow-cooked on stove or in oven makes tender, succulent meats, sauces and vegetables. And yet…
On the day I made the beans I conducted an experiment. I made half of those “soaked” beans in the Instant Pot with the soup and the other half in my Marshall’s Italian pottery bean cooker in a low oven. The bean pot beans came out creamy and whole, whereas the Instant Pot beans were smashed up a bit. Though you can’t beat a creamy, whole white bean, the Instant Pot’s version is quite acceptable.
The chicken broth I made recently from two carcasses, a carrot, celery, good Greek sea salt, old green onions from my garden, and some fresh ginger is delicious – golden and salty – all that good chicken broth can be. It took, all told, an hour.
I had a lot of fat onions I planned to caramelize and freeze, so I tried out the Instant Pot with them. The Food Lab offers a detailed recipe for making them in the Instant Pot.
Results: The Instant Pot’s onions created a lot of liquid, which I poured off and saved for soup. The final product was creamy (In the top photo, plate on the left). The stovetop onions behaved as always, taking a long time, gradually turning golden, then tan and brown (top photo, the plate on the right). They retained their shape and were sweet and delicious. Each group had distinct tastes: Instant Pot’s carried a slight over-taste of onion, not as sweet as traditionally caramelized onions. Both were good, but I will stick to the stovetop for my caramelized treasures.
I make a living cooking classic French, Italian, Middle Eastern and American dishes adapted to be allergy-free using traditional methods. Have I left the fold of these ancient, wise ways, the measured steps and stages of transforming food into delectable, sensory delights, nourishing to head, heart and tummy? Because of a pressure cooker, should I feel a traitor to tradition?
The new Instant Pot hisses for a short time, and beeps when you turn it on or shut the lid, friendly like. That’s all. It seems to be a workhorse. No wonder Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo raves about it. Actually, her pre-holiday sale nudge is what had me clicking on the Amazon page last November. That and a client’s raves: “I make everything in the Instant Pot now. You’re the only one who uses our slow cooker!”
The year 2017 has been a letting go time for me – and looks to continue to be. So I’ll let go of the opinion that there is only one way to cook delicious food. Happy cooking to you and all good blessings for a scrumptious autumn!