Three Ways to Make Your Pressure Cooker Dishes More Flavourful

Three Ways to Make Your Pressure Cooker Dishes More Flavourful

As you have probably heard, Instant Pot — or the company that owns Instant Pot, rather — has declared bankruptcy amid declining sales. I don’t have a head for business, but my gut reaction is that sales are declining because everyone who wants an Instant Pot already has one, and some of those people have fallen out of love with the appliance. It could also be a matter of making far too many products under a single brand name, but again, I’m not a business person. (It should be noted that Instant Pot products are still available for purchase, and another company may purchase the popular brand.)

One of the main criticisms of the Instant Pot (or a pressure cooker) is the food that comes out of it can be a little bland or “mid,” as the kids say. As cookbook author Jules Sherred explained in his interview with Lifehacker, too much liquid is the most likely culprit. If the Instant Pot is good at anything, it’s wringing the water out fruits, vegetables, and meats, which can be positive or negative, depending on your goal. (Carbs behave differently however, and will absorb liquid, so the following doesn’t apply to grains and the like, nor does it apply to soups and stews, which have intentionally high water contents.)

Here are a few ways you decrease the excess liquid, and up the flavour in your Instant Pot recipes.

You need less liquid than you think

I’ve seen pork shoulder and pot roast recipes that call for a cup of stock or soy sauce, along with an additional cup of water. There’s no need for that. Big cuts of meat release a lot of moisture while cooking, and adding more than the bare minimum of liquid is going to dilute the flavour, and leave your roast swimming in watery broth. The goal is to eliminate excess liquid, though you can’t eliminate it entirely. According to the manufacturer, you need to add at least a cup of liquid to the insert to help the appliance come to pressure and prevent burning.

Unofficially, I have made due with less, especially when the appliance is fairly full of food. While workshopping a carnitas recipe the other day, I decided to play around with liquid amounts, and added 3/4 cup of orange juice, rather than the recommended full cup. The Instant Pot got to pressure fine, and I never received the dreaded burn notice. Emboldened by this, I added even less liquid to my next recipe — a mere half cup of liquid (1/4 cup of soy sauce and 1/4 cup maple syrup) to a batch of beef ribs. That too went well, and without incident.

While I would never order you to ignore manufacturer instructions, I offer this anecdotal data as inspiration. If you consider yourself a bit of a rebel, play around with adding 1/2-3/4 cups of liquid to your Instant Pot recipes (or stove-top recipes you’re adapting for the pressure cooker), but make sure to keep an eye on it while it comes to pressure. You can always open it up and add a little liquid if you get an error message. Once it comes to pressure, you can go back to ignoring it until it’s time to eat.

Replace water with other, more flavorful liquids

If you have to add liquid, it might as well taste good. Just as I recommend swapping out the water in a cornstarch slurry for something with a bit more oomph, you can replace the water in Instant Pot recipes with broth (or Better Than Bouillon, which has more flavour than true broth), soy sauce, fish sauce, wine, beer, or juice. (Do not add spirits; the fumes may ignite.) You can also use 50/50 mixtures of broth and a liquid sweetener, but avoid using all sweetener, as those can burn on the bottom of the pot.

Don’t use vegetables as flavoring

As I briefly mentioned above, I’m currently workshopping an Instant Pot carnitas recipe, part of which includes reading other, already published recipes. Many of these recipes have you add whole onion and fresh garlic to the pot, along with your pork and dry seasonings, but that’s a waste of onion and garlic. Not only do fresh ingredients contribute water, their already un-concentrated flavour gets further diluted by the liquid in the pot. (Ever noticed how much water evaporates while you’re caramelizing onions? It’s a fair amount.)

Instead, I used onion powder and garlic powder, which have a more concentrated, if slightly different flavour profile that won’t add additional moisture. The pork I made with 3/4 cup of orange juice and dried seasonings was super flavorful, with detectable notes of onion and garlic, without any mushy vegetables. Onion and garlic aren’t the only fresh vegetables with dried counterparts; you can add paprika instead of bell pepper, chilli powder instead of chiles, and dried herbs instead of fresh.

Combine all three of these strategies, and you just might find yourself falling back in love with tabletop pressure cooker. If not, ah well. Perhaps you’d enjoy an air fryer.

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