October 23, 2017
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Don’t Cook With an Instant Pot Just Because You Can

In her new cookbook, Dinner in an Instant, Melissa Clark wants to help you get to dinner faster without cutting out any of the color or crunch.

In this age—the dawn of the Instant Pot, let’s call it—you may be wondering what the hell an Instant Pot is and why you need one if you already have a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. And you may be wondering why you would buy a countertop cooking device at all, when a gloriously analog frying pan or Dutch oven is all you need to caramelize some carrots or cook some osso buco.

Cookbook author Melissa Clark used to share this skepticism. After a few lackluster experiences with stovetop pressure cookers, she started to experiment with the Instant Pot for a January piece for the New York Times. She noticed that the $99 device brought spontaneity into her cooking that a slow cooker never could. She was suddenly able to whip up soups, stews, and braises that had previously required lots of planning and waiting. She could cook juicy short ribs in 30 minutes and tender lamb shanks in 40 minutes.

Even so, she remained a bit of a skeptic, lamenting a few of the device’s shortcomings.The Instant Pot was great for proteins like meat, beans, and lentils, but it left most vegetables “limp and unappealing.” It was great for bone broths and steel-cut oats, but didn’t really perform terribly well outside of the texture spectrum of liquids and mushes. “Don’t expect anything crisp or crunchy taken directly from the pot. It just doesn’t do that,” she says.

So when she began to write her newest book, Dinner in an Instant, she approached the project with a healthy dose of realism. “In this book, I focus on the machine’s strengths, writing not about what you can make in it, but what you should make because the electric pressure cooker does it better—faster, or more flavorfully, or with less mess and/or stress,” she writes in the introduction.

This discerning attitude gives every recipe in the book a sense of purpose. Do you need an Instant Pot to make soft-boiled eggs? You really don’t. And Clark is forthright about this. But if you hate peeling eggs, it might come as a revelation to learn that pressure-cooked eggshells slip right off without sticking to the egg whites. Do you need an Instant Pot to pull off a perfect pot of polenta? Definitely not! But when you cook it in the Instant Pot, Clark points out, you don’t have to babysit the pot with constant stirs, so you’re free to wander off and focus on other parts of the meal.

The recipes that couldn’t quite be perfected within the confines of Instant Pot settings didn’t make it into the book. As a pasta enthusiast, Clark was excited about the new possibilities that an Instant Pot might offer—but soon learned that it “goes from al dente to mush in seconds.” As a result, the only pasta recipe in the book is a creamy macaroni and cheese. “I know it can be done well, but it’s tricky,” she says. “But I’m still working on this category because I love pasta! Maybe there will be more in the next book.”

The book highlights the strengths of the machine, revisiting classic dishes like butternut squash soup, mushroom risotto, and lamb tagine—dishes that traditionally benefit from low-and-slow cooking. In instances when the dishes might become a bit monochromatically brown, or a bit homogenous in texture, she finds simple fixes—a moment in the broiler to crisp the skin on a duck confit, or a sprinkle of a bright gremolata. “Garnishes are your friends!” she says, echoing fellow author Alison Roman. “That’s where crunch comes in.” In a recipe for tahdig, a Persian rice dish, the cooked rice and herbs spend a few minutes at the “sauté” setting to create a crispy golden crust that looks like it came out of a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.

Small extra steps like these can make a meal a little less “instant,” but they make a difference. “This book is for when Instant Pot cooks want to stretch themselves a little,” Clark says. “The recipes are faster than traditional cooking methods but without any sacrifice to quality. It’s not for those times when you need to just throw a bunch of stuff into the pot to get dinner on the table, which we all do sometimes. This book is for when you want to get an excellent dinner on the table fast—with interesting flavors and ingredient combinations.”


  • 3½ pounds boneless lamb shoulder, well trimmed and cut into 2 pieces
  • 9 garlic cloves (3 finely grated, 6 left whole)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme, torn or cut into pieces
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, torn or cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks (white and light green parts only), or 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 oil-packed anchovy fillets
  • 1 pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • fresh lemon juice, to taste
  • 1 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen (do not thaw)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
  • chopped fresh mint and/or more tarragon, for serving

Perfect for springtime, this ethereally tender lamb has an intense, heady sauce flecked with herbs and sweet green peas. The anchovies add a saline complexity but aren’t at all fishy. Plus, no one will know they are there if you don’t tell them. Serve this with something—bread, rice, polenta, or a spoon—to scoop up the sauce. It’s quite spectacular, and you won’t want to miss a drop.

  1. In a large bowl, toss the lamb with the grated garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme and rosemary sprigs. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and preferably overnight.
  2. Brush the herbs off the lamb and reserve. Using the sauté function in the pressure cooker (or a skillet over high heat), heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Once it is hot, add the lamb. Let it brown for 5 to 7 minutes per side, and then transfer the pieces to a plate.
  3. Add another tablespoon of the oil to the pot (or skillet). When it’s hot, add the leeks and sauté until golden, 3 to 5 minutes (if the pot gets too hot and you can’t lower the heat, turn it off for a few minutes and let the leeks cook in the residual heat to keep them from burning).
  4. Add the wine to the pot (or skillet) and simmer, scraping up the browned bits, until it has reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the anchovies and red pepper flakes. Return the lamb and reserved herb sprigs to the pot, cover, and cook on high pressure for 50 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb to a serving platter. Use a fat separator to separate the fat from the juices, or just spoon the fat off the top. Taste the sauce, and add more salt and/or a squeeze of lemon as needed. If the sauce is thin, use the sauté function to simmer it down.
  6. Stir in the peas and tarragon and simmer on the sauté function until peas are tender (1 to 2 minutes for frozen peas, 2 to 5 for fresh peas). Serve the lamb topped with scallions and mint, and a squeeze of lemon juice if desired.
Duck Confit

Duck Confit

4 servings


  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves, torn in half
  • ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice berries, lightly crushed
  • 4 duck legs (drumsticks and thighs)

This recipe might be my favorite way to use the electric pressure cooker: It is an easy and relatively quick method for making meltingly tender duck confit. You won’t need to add any extra duck fat to the pot; the duck here 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. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where it will last for up to 3 months, or freeze it for up to a year. It is absolutely wonderful for cooking potatoes.

  1. Line a small rimmed baking sheet or a plate with paper towels. In a large bowl, stir together the salt, thyme, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and allspice. Add the duck legs and toss, covering the legs evenly with the salt. Place the duck legs in a single layer on the baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.
  2. Brush the garlic and thyme sprigs off the duck, reserving them. Using the sauté function, arrange the duck legs, skin-side down, in the pressure cooker, with as much of the flesh touching the bottom of the pot as possible. Sear until the skin turns golden brown and the fat starts to render, 5 to 10 minutes. Flip the duck legs over and sear on the other side for 5 to 10 minutes. Scatter the reserved garlic and thyme on top of the duck.
  3. Cover and cook the duck legs on high pressure for 40 minutes, and then release the pressure manually. Flip the legs over, and cook on high pressure for another 30 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
  4. Let the duck cool completely, and then store it, covered in its own rendered fat (there will be lots of it in the pot), in the refrigerator. Note that you will be left with a dark brown liquid—the duck stock—that will separate from the white duck fat as the confit cools. Save this delicious elixir. You can use it for sauces, soups, or anywhere you need a good, concentrated meat or poultry stock. It also freezes well.
  5. When you are ready to serve, heat the broiler.
  6. Scrape fat off duck legs. Transfer the duck to a rimmed baking sheet and broil until the skin is crispy, 3 to 5 minutes (or you can crisp up the duck in a hot, dry skillet).


  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 5 cups packed fresh soft herbs and tender stems (use as many kinds as possible, such as a combination of fresh dill, cilantro, parsley, fennel fronds, tarragon, mint, basil, chervil, and chives)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter: 1 tablespoon softened, 4 tablespoons melted
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • ⅛ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Filled with herbs and seasoned with aromatic saffron butter, this green and orange–flecked rice dish is magnificent, made even more so by its crunchy, buttery, golden bottom crust called a tahdig. Creating the tahdig, which requires a stint on the sauté setting after the rice and herbs are cooked under pressure, takes some practice and finessing, so don’t be upset if it doesn’t work out perfectly the first time. There’s an art to knowing when to take the pot off the heat. If some of the crust sticks to the pot, just scrape it out and lay it on top of the rice for serving. Then make sure everyone gets at least a small piece of it to savor. Those of you with nonstick pots in your pressure cookers will have a much easier time unmolding this. But stainless steel pot owners, fear not; if you’re nervous, err on the side of undercooking the tahdig. Better lightly golden than burnt. In any case, with all the saffron and herbs, it will still be delicious. And when you do eventually turn out a perfect version, be prepared for the oohs and aahs. They will be copious. This is a dish worth mastering.

  1. Rinse the rice in a fine-mesh sieve for several minutes, until the water runs clear; then transfer it to a medium bowl. Cover the rice with warm water and let it sit while you prepare the herbs.
  2. Place the herbs, with any tender stems, in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. (Or you can do this by hand with a knife.) You should have about 2½ cups finely chopped herbs.
  3. Brush the bottom of the pressure cooker with the 1 tablespoon softened butter. Drain the rice, and then sprinkle one third of the rice over the bottom of the pot. Top with half of the chopped herbs, ½ tablespoon of the dried dill, and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Layer another third of the rice on top, and repeat the herb, dill, and salt layers. Top with the remaining rice and then pour in 2 cups of water.
  4. Cover and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes. Release the pressure manually, remove the lid, drape a clean kitchen towel on top of the pot, and loosely replace the lid or place a large plate on top. Let the rice sit for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, grind the saffron in a mortar and pestle. Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into the mortar, swirl it around, and then pour the saffron oil into a measuring cup with a spout. Repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, scraping the mortar to get every last bit of saffron. Stir the melted butter into the saffron oil.
  6. Remove the kitchen towel from the pot. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke holes through the rice all the way to the bottom. Pour the butter mixture over the rice, being generous in the center (most pressure cookers tend to have bottoms that slope down from the center, so the butter will slide to the sides). Turn on the sauté function and cook until the rice is browned and crispy on the bottom, 8 to 12 minutes.
  7. Turn the pressure cooker off and use a rubber spatula to loosen the rice around the sides and at the bottom of the pot. Remove the pressure cooker pot (using oven mitts or kitchen towels—the pot will be hot). Invert a large platter on top of the pot, and then quickly flip them over together so the rice falls onto the platter, crunchy side up. Or, if you’re hesitant to do that, simply scoop the rice onto the platter so that the crunchy side is on top.

Anna Hezel

Anna Hezel is the senior editor of TASTE.

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