Recipe Review

The 3-Ingredient Instant Pot Chicken Dinner I Make Again and Again

published Sep 23, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I didn’t grow up in a family that placed a big (well, any) premium on homemade food. We ate dinner together almost every night and wanted our food to taste good, but my parents embraced pretty much all the store-bought shortcuts, from jarred marinara to packets of powdered gravy. 

As an adult, I fell hard for cooking. I went to culinary school and started working as a personal chef, food writer, and food editor, and at the same time I began making more of those staples and sauces from scratch. I cooked up marinara sauce, barbecue sauce, and enchilada sauce. I did it because I loved being in the kitchen, because they tasted good, and yes, because I was a tiny bit snobbish.

Fast forward a decade, a kid, and a career later, and I am an unabashed store-bought shortcut enthusiast. In fact, I’ve dialed down my daily dinner routine in lots of ways. I’m serving uber-simple salads as veggie sides many nights of the week, just saying no to time-consuming garnishes, and gleefully skipping entire ingredients in recipes if it doesn’t seem like they’ll boost the flavor enough to make the effort worthwhile. (Don’t get me started on bay leaves.) 

This stripped-down supper philosophy is what inspired my latest cookbook, Bare Minimum Dinners. The goal is the same as always: cooking at home for delicious, nourishing dinners. But by putting less pressure on ourselves to make a picture-perfect, or entirely homemade meal, cooking becomes much more appealing and attainable. 

So give me all the jars of sauce — high-quality, delicious sauces, of course. One of my favorite ways to wield them is with that other weeknight dinner timesaver, the Instant Pot. Cook chicken thighs and a sauce for just a few minutes, shred the chicken, serve them with a starch, and if you’re feeling ambitious, add a garnish. It’s simple, sure, and won’t win any beauty contests, but it’s a comforting, delicious dinner that you can make again and again.

Oh, and don’t worry, I draw the line at — actually well before — powdered gravy. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to Make Instant Pot Saucy Chicken

This is less of a recipe and more of a method, because making chicken with a jarred sauce in the Instant Pot is so easy and so adaptable. In any guise, this meal is a workhorse. You need chicken, a sauce, and a starch to soak up the sauce. These quantities will serve 4 people.

  • 1 1/2 cups sauce (see options below)
  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)

1. Pour the sauce into the Instant Pot or other multicooker. Add the chicken thighs and turn with a fork or tongs to coat. Lock the lid and set to cook on high pressure for 10 minutes.

2. When cooking is complete, press Cancel and let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes. Carefully quick-release the remaining pressure and remove the lid. (The valve may have already floated down.) Transfer the chicken to a shallow dish.

3. If the sauce seems thin, set the Instant Pot to Sauté and let the sauce simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to thicken slightly. Press Cancel and stir in the butter, if using.

4. While the sauce is simmering, shred the chicken with 2 forks. When the sauce is ready, return the chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Serve with your choice of starch and toppers (see options below).

6 Ways with Instant Pot Saucy Chicken

Looking for a little inspiration? Here are six of my favorite variations on this recipe.

  • Sauce: Indian simmer sauce (such as Maya Kaimal brand)
  • Starch: Rice or naan
  • Topper: Sliced scallions and/or chopped cilantro
  • Sauce: Marinara sauce (such as Rao’s)
  • Starch: Pasta, couscous, or crusty bread
  • Topper: Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Sauce: Tomatillo salsa (skip the optional butter)
  • Starch: Rice, tortillas, or tortilla chips
  • Topper: Slivered radishes and/or sliced scallions
  • Sauce: Enchilada sauce (such as Frontera; skip the optional butter)
  • Starch: Rice, tortillas, or tortilla chips
  • Topper: Shredded cheddar cheese, cotija, and/or chopped red onion
  • Sauce: 1 cup mango chutney and 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • Starch: Rice or naan
  • Topper: Chopped cilantro and/or mint
  • Sauce: Barbecue sauce (such as Stubb’s; skip the optional butter)
  • Starch: Sandwich rolls or buns
  • Topper: Shredded cabbage or slaw

Recipe excerpted from BARE MINIMUM DINNERS: Recipes and Strategies for Doing Less in the Kitchen © 2021 by Jenna Helwig. Photography © 2021 by Linda Xiao. Reproduced by permission of Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Credit: Courtesy of Mariner Books

For more recipes like Instant Pot Saucy Chicken, be sure to check out Jenna’s newest book, Bare Minimum Dinners: Recipes and Strategies for Doing Less in the Kitchen.