Cooking

How to Make Almost Anything in Your Instant Pot

Put the little pressure cooker that could to good use
How to Make Your Favorite Recipe Instant Pot Ready
Photo: Rachel Vanni/Tasting Table

Thanks to the illustrious Instant Pot, the magical pressure cooker long beloved by professional chefs everywhere is making a Robert Downey Jr.-style universal comeback—and for good reason. This speedy weeknight dinner superhero has even given rise to an Instant Pot fan club 350,000 members strong.

But just like Tony Stark, this kitchen beast can be a bit fickle. So follow these basic guidelines, and all your favorite recipes will be ready for this kitchen Iron Man in no time.

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 Choose the Right Foods

Pressure cookers are powered by steam, so they work best for hearty stews, nourishing soups and slow, tender braises. And just because you can cook chicken breast in your Instant Pot doesn't necessarily mean you should—searing the quick-cooking cutlet the old-fashioned way takes just as long.

 Put the Sauté Function to Use

Relying on only pressure and slow cooking means your food never gets a chance to cultivate all the rich, caramelized notes produced during browning. Take the extra step and utilize your Instant Pot's sauté function, like crisping up onions before braising pork for tacos al pastor, and you'll really make that one-pot dinner shine.

 Scale Back on the Liquid

Your Instant Pot works by building steam pressure inside a tightly sealed chamber. So unlike a pot roast bubbling away on the stove, little evaporation occurs during the cooking process. There's no need to completely submerge your chuck roast—just make sure you've added at least one cup of liquid to the pot. It's also smarter to wait until the end to add any dairy ingredients, as they can curdle under the intense cooking environment.

 Cut Your Cooking Time by a Third

Though a few factors, like food size and weight, can impact overall cooking times, an Instant Pot generally takes approximately one- to two-thirds the time of a traditional recipe. Thankfully for the mathematically challenged, the pre-programmed Slow Cook, Rice, Multigrain and Soup buttons do a pretty good job of nailing the correct timings (as do these nifty charts), and the machine's robust manual controls allow you to adjust cooking times as needed.

 Release Wisely

There are two ways to release the steam from your Instant Pot once your food is finished cooking. The quick pressure release is ideal for preventing vegetables or delicate proteins from overcooking, though try using it for soup and you'll wind up with a broth-spattered ceiling. When cooking liquid-based dishes, opt for the natural-release valve, which lets your Instant Pot depressurize at its own pace.

 Finish Strong

Unfortunately, throwing an entire recipe's worth of ingredients into a pot at the same time means your food will come out one note, both in flavor and texture. We suggest brightening up your dish with a few secret weapons, like a handful of chopped herbs for a grassy, peppery finish or even a few of our favorite umami bombs for a savory punch. Chewy golden raisins and crunchy chopped almonds add textural variety to dishes like this Mediterranean Instant Pot-braised chicken.

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