May 7, 2017

Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Three Cup Chicken

“The German birds didn't taste as good as their French cousins, nor did the frozen Dutch chickens we bought in the local supermarkets. The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear.”
My Life in France, Julia Child
Lately, whenever someone asks me, "What's new?", my response has invariably been, "I got an Instant Pot!" (Yes, this is the most exciting thing in my life right now.) The response I get is usually a verbal and nonverbal combination: "What's an Instant Pot?", paired with a look that says, "What the heck is she so excited about?"

I thought everyone knew what an Instant Pot was. I'm usually out of the loop about pretty much everything, and I've been hearing about (and dreaming about owning) this appliance for about a year now. But I guess there are still people out there who don't know what it is! So, for those of you who still don't know, it's a multicooker that functions as a rice cooker, pressure cooker, slow cooker, and steamer in one. It sounds fantastic, right? But now that I've actually gone through the ups and downs of acquiring one of these bad boys, I don't think I'd recommend it for everyone. You should definitely know what you're getting into first (see this other Instant Pot post for details). 

The first thing I made in my Instant Pot was (not-so-instant) beef stew. It was pretty satisfying...1 hour of "cooking" time (35 minutes actually pressure cooking, plus 25 minutes to come up to pressure and "quick release" the pressure) yielded tender chunks of beef and tender potatoes and carrots.

The second thing I made was a non-traditional version of three-cup chicken. In fact, it can hardly be called 3-cup chicken, aside from the fact that it contains chicken, lots of garlic, and the Chinese trinity of cooking wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil. It differs from traditional three-cup chicken in three main ways:
-I used boneless chicken breast instead of dark meat.
-I added less sesame oil in the 1:1:1 ratio of cooking wine/soy sauce/sesame oil.
-I nixed the basil and added veggies like Napa cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, and onions to make it more of a one-pot meal.

It came out soupier than I intended, but it's still really delicious. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that the chicken breast came out pretty tender—you can even shred it with a fork, a la pulled pork. The chicken breast will absorb the juices of the Napa cabbage, mushrooms, wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil, making for a sweet and savory, umami-filled brothy stew-like dish that's hearty and satisfying, and not at all like the classically dry chicken breast that Julia is describing above, and sadly, has come to characterize your typical serving of American poultry.

Instant Pot 3-cup Chicken
7-8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
5 carrots, chopped
1 lb. button mushrooms, quartered
1 head Napa cabbage, chopped roughly
3/4 cup Chinese cooking wine
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sesame oil
4 chicken breasts (~2 lbs.)

Turn your Instant Pot on (keep the lid off for now) and hit the "Saute" button. Once it says "On" it's hot enough to start browning stuff. Drizzle in some olive oil, add your garlic and onion in. Let cook for about 5 minutes until the onion has softened.

Add in the carrots, button mushrooms, Napa cabbage, wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and stir until cabbage has wilted a bit (10 min). Add in the chicken breasts and make sure they're submerged in the liquid. Make sure everything is below the Max fill line of the Instant Pot bowl. If not, you'll need to wait until the veggies shrink a bit more.

Put the lid on the pot, make sure the valve is in "sealing" position, and hit the "Manual" button, hit the + or - button until the number of minutes says 12. Go about your business (at this time, your pot will look like it's not doing anything, but in about 5-10 minutes the red float valve should rise (after some sputtering). Let cook (should take about 30 minutes...12 minutes "cooking" time plus the time it takes to come to pressure and release the pressure). After the timer goes off, let it sit in Keep Warm mode for 10-12 minutes, then use a pair of tongs and a kitchen towel to carefully switch the valve on the lid to the "venting" position to quickly release the pressure. Once the pressure releases all the way (wait until the steam is done coming out, and the red float valve has descended all the way), you can open the lid. Serve over rice (prior to this, I also cooked brown rice in the same pot) -- see recipe below.

Instant Pot Brown Rice
Note: The "cups" in this recipe were measured using the "rice-size" cup included with the Instant Pot, which is probably about 75% of the size of a normal US measuring cup. The ratio of rice to liquid should be about 1:1.25 no matter what size cup you're using.

3 cups long-grain brown rice, rinsed and drained
3 3/4 cups water

Combine these ingredients, put the lid on the pot, making sure the valve is in "sealing" position. Hit Manual and set the timer for 22 minutes. Once the cooking time is done, it will automatically switch to "Keep Warm" mode. Let it sit in Keep Warm mode for 10 minutes. Using a pair of tongs and a towel, switch the valve to "venting" position" making sure the steam doesn't get near your hands. Let the pressure release all the way (wait until the steam is done coming out, and the red float valve has descended all the way). Your rice is ready! At this point, I scooped out the rice and let it cool in another container, then stored it in the fridge, and added my three-cup chicken ingredients directly into the same Instant Pot bowl, to save some cleaning time.

What everyone should know about the Instant Pot

“I will not pretend I wasn't petrified. I was. But mixed in with the awful fear was a glorious feeling of excitement. Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death. They wouldn't be exciting if they didn't.” 
Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl

This quote sums up how I've felt about pressure cookers pretty much my whole life. On the one hand, they're so cool! You can make bone broth in an hour instead of a whole day. Your meat will always come out tender and juicy. And vegetables will retain more nutrients because they'll cook in less time! On the other hand, I still have memories of the frightfully disturbing hissing sounds that my mother's old aluminum pressure cooker would make, and how she warned me to stay away from it (an order I was happy to follow). My mom always used to break out the pressure cooker to make oxtail, so I always associate pressure cookers with one of my favorite meals: oxtail stew. 

I have always toyed with the idea of getting a pressure cooker—and you might find this odd, but for me, it symbolizes a step toward "real" adulthood (along with other rites of passage/luxuries like owning a washing machine and dryer). So when I realized there was such a thing as an "electric pressure cooker" that included buttons and promised to be dummy-proof, I experienced that "glorious feeling of excitement" that Danny is talking about up there.

But living in New York, you can't buy an appliance that does just one thing. No, in order to justify the kitchen counter real estate, you have to make sure that it serves at least two purposes. The Vitamix makes smoothies and soup. That pot on the stove makes hot water for tea (who has room for a teapot?), and boils water for pasta. Even my Snoopy stuff has to serve a purpose to warrant space on my desk.

This Snoopy isn't just easy on the eyes -- it's also a glasses holder!

So when I found out about the Instant Pot, I was intrigued. I finally made the leap after we threw out the rice cooker in the process of moving. Now that I've made the leap to pressure cooking, I feel it's important for other people to know a few things. tldr: Don't expect too much. It's just an appliance. And you'll probably just use it for soups and stews at first, until you get more comfortable with experimenting. 

If you're thinking about buying an Instant Pot, here are a few considerations/caveats that you should keep in mind:

1. You'll need to do some research/experiment to find good recipes. This was the most surprising (and disappointing) thing I've realized. You might be disappointed with the selection of Instant Pot recipes available online. So you can't just search for Instant Pot recipes (you'll get a limited variety of recipes). You need to widen your search to include "pressure cooker recipes" and/or look up the Instant Pot cook times for common ingredients like "chicken breast" to convert stovetop recipes into pressure cooker recipes. For example, I determined the cooking time for this recipe by looking at my Instant Pot recipe booklet's recommended cooking time for chicken breast (10-12 minutes).

2. It's kind of a pain to clean. The good thing is you can brown/saute stuff in the pot before stewing it, so that saves you from having to dirty another pan. However, you still have to remove and wash the "sealing ring" separately from the lid, which is kind of annoying. Then you'll have to stick the sealing ring back into the lid after everything has dried. Also, if you want to make desserts in your Instant Pot, you should buy another sealing ring because the ring tends to absorb cooking smells even after you wash it.

3. It's not that "instant." The cooking times doesn't usually include the time it takes to come to pressure. So if you see 30-min cooking time for brown rice, you should budget about 1 hour as a conservative estimate of total "in-pot" time.

4. It's big. This one's kind of obvious, but it's worth a mention: Be prepared to sacrifice counter space. Especially if you want to get the 8-qt. version like I did.

5. Hang on to your rice cooker (if you have one). If you want to use it as a rice cooker as well as the cooking vessel for your main dish, you'll need to plan ahead (cook the rice, then let it cool & store it before moving on to making your main dish). Otherwise, you'll probably still need to hang onto your dedicated rice cooker, if you have one. Since I don't have one, I have to experiment a little more with making dishes that allow me to combine rice with the main dish (like the filling of a zongzi...mmm).

To help out with #1, I will try to post whatever Instant Pot recipes I can in the future.