Leave it to Madhur Jaffrey to find new ways to master the cooking appliance you thought could do no better. Whether you’re an occasional Instant Pot user or an avid one, the actress and cookbook author’s new book, “Madhur Jaffrey’s Instantly Indian Cookbook: Modern and Classic Recipes for the Instant Pot,” ups the ante.
It’s well known that the device is terrific for cooking Indian food. As Jaffrey points out in her introduction, Indian cooks have been using pressure cookers for decades for staples like dal and rice. But she was curious about “the pot,” as she calls it, for its functions beyond pressure cooking, including slow cooking and steaming.
The first recipes she tried were soups, beans and lentils, but what she was really concerned with was rice. “It had to be rice that is congenial with Indian food. It has to be cooked through. It couldn’t be al dente,” she explains. After tinkering for a while, she worked out her own recipe, which involves soaking the grains and changing the quantity of water. “Then I used the rice button and it worked just perfectly. Those are the kinds of experiments I did,” she says.
Even greater than figuring out the equation for perfectly cooked rice, however, was recognizing the need to cook—or in this case, soak—outside the pot.
“As I say in the beginning of the book, there’s no magic,” she points out. The Instant Pot can cut down cooking time considerably, but “it’s not always quick. You can be sitting or reading or doing something else, you’re not working. But meat can take time to come up to pressure,” she explains.
What Jaffrey learned was how to use the pot for certain stages. It’s not always a matter of dumping everything into the pot at once and calling it a day. “You have to be aware,” she says. “You can’t fall asleep at the wheel.”
She’ll often use the Instant Pot to steam potatoes, for example, before removing them to toss in oil and spices and finish in a hot oven. “They brown in the oven, which is actually much better. You get the very lovely crisp potatoes that aren’t banging up against each other in the pot and can spread out. I don’t just stick to the pot.”
(If you’re worried this two-phase cooking counteracts the one-pot cleanup that’s so appealing about doing everything inside the Instant Pot, Jaffrey has the answer: “I usually use foil on the baking tray.“)
Another curveball? Jaffrey loves the Instant Pot for fish—she’ll first use the pressure-cooker function to make a sauce and then the sauté function to gently poach fillets for no more than a few minutes. She especially likes it for shellfish, which she approaches the same way. “I recommend getting the glass lid so you can see the clams opening,” she says.
The one recipe Jaffrey doesn’t use her Instant Pot for? Yogurt. A lot of people make homemade yogurt in the Instant Pot, but Jaffrey says, “In our house, my husband has a yogurt maker, and he makes it all the time.”
Photo: Dana Gallagher