5 Things We Learned About the Instant Pot from Melissa Clark's New Cookbook

5 Things We Learned About the Instant Pot from Melissa Clark's New Cookbook

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Danielle Centoni
Oct 17, 2017
(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

When New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark decided to find out why electric pressure cookers — the Instant Pot, in particular — inspire such a frenzied following, she thought she'd write her story and be done with it. But, as it turns out, Clark became one of the adoring fans.

"I figured I'd stick the machine in the basement with all the other once-in-a-while appliances," she wrote in a recent article for the New York Times. "Over time, though, the multicooker became so embedded in the rhythm of my everyday cooking that I never unplugged it."

In fact, she loved her Instant Pot so much, she wrote a book about it. Fellow Instant Pot lovers and the Insta-curious have been awaiting its pub date with an eagerness not seen since the Harry Potter days, and after just a few short months (seriously, did she set a record for fastest cookbook ever produced?), the book is finally here.

Beautifully photographed and easy to read, Dinner in an Instant: 75 Modern Recipes for Your Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot delivers the kind of familiar classics with smart flavor twists that Clark is known for (think: baby back ribs with a sticky tamarind glaze and coq au vin with rosé). Some dishes are family-friendly, like classic beef and bean chili, while others are more company-worthy, like osso buco and saffron risotto.

It's also full of smart tips for using your Instant Pot in ways that you hadn't thought of. You already know how to make rice in your Instant Pot and that the pressure cooker is the key to tender, smoky Kalua pig, but we bet there are a few things you didn't know your Instant Pot could do.

(Image credit: Clarkson Potter)

5 Smart Tips from Melissa Clark's Instant Pot Cookbook

1. Use the sauté function after your food cooks.

Instant Pot recipes often call for using the sauté function to sauté aromatic vegetables or brown meat before cooking, but they usually don't call for using the sauté function afterward to boil things down and concentrate the flavors or crisp things up. For Clark, however, the recipes aren't done when the food is cooked — they're done when they've achieved full-on deliciousness.

Many of Clark's recipes make smart use of the sauté function, to simmer cooking liquids and concentrate flavors at the end of cooking or to caramelize vegetables after they get steamed to tenderness. She even employs it to create a crispy tahdig (crust) on Persian rice.

2. Use the steamer rack to multitask.

Use the steamer rack to cook several things at once, while keeping them separate. In Clark's recipe for farro pilaf with spiced cauliflower, pine nuts, and raisins, for example, the grain cooks at the bottom of the pot, while the cauliflower and a ramekin of raisins in vinegar and honey sit on the rack. They cook at the same time, but not together, which is an important distinction.

3. Use your Instant Pot as a bain-marie.

A bain-marie, or water bath, is used to gently cook delicate things like custards or cheesecake that need slow, even heating to keep them from burning or curdling. The water acts as a buffer between the dish being cooked and the heat of the oven (or stove, in the case of melting chocolate). When used in the oven, a roasting pan is filled halfway with hot water, the dish is set inside, and the pan is covered with foil.

Sliding this contraption in and out of the oven is a sloshly nightmare, and depending on how big your roasting pan is and how much water you used to fill it, it could really throw off your cooking time. Using the Instant Pot as a bain-marie? Much easier. Just remember to cover the desserts with foil to protect them from condensation.

4. Use your Instant Pot to steam eggs.

Although one of the benefits of the Instant Pot is speed, it's not always about time. Clark says that although it takes the same amount of time to cook eggs on the stove as in the pressure cooker, the egg shells will come off much easier after pressure cooking. The eggs are essentially steamed in the Instant Pot, and steaming eggs, rather than boiling, makes them easier to peel.

5. Make duck confit.

Clark's favorite use for her Instant Pot is duck confit. And while we know duck confit probably isn't on your typical weeknight menu, Clark may convert you. "You won't need to add any extra duck fat to the pot," she writes. "The duck cooks in its own rendered fat, after which it emerges soft-fleshed and flavorful, and ready to be quickly crisped up under the broiler before serving. You'll also end up with extra rendered duck fat. I like to save that fat for frying and roasting."

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