How to Modify a Recipe for the Instant Pot

Have a recipe your love, and want to cook it in your Instant Pot? Maybe it’s an old family recipe, or something you found online that’s designed for a slow cooker or the stove top. Maybe you’ve got a recipe in a cookbook and you don’t have the time for a long slow-cooking process.

Here’s how to modify a recipe to work in your Instant Pot.

Make Sure it’s Instant Pot Compatible

Not all recipes work well in the Instant Pot. Soups, stews, braises, pasta dishes and rice dishes are all great. Generally, anything you would cook in a slow cooker works in the Instant Pot, too.

Seared items, or items where the structure of the dish is very important (like a saltimbocca) don’t work as well.

Stage 1: Browning, Sauteing

The first stage of Instant Pot cooking is browning or sauteing ingredients with the lid off. This is the stage where you add in meats, vegetables, and other ingredients and start to meld the flavors together.

Look at your recipe. Does it call for adding chopped vegetables, onions, searing or browning meat, etc?

If so, you’ll do these parts first. Set your Instant Pot to Saute, add in oil if your recipe calls for it, and do all the browning/searing steps. This is also where you’ll want to add in seasonings like soy sauce, sugar, etc if your recipe calls for it.

Many recipes ask you to add in onions, celery, carrots, meat etc. and brown them. You’ll do this during the browning/sauteing stage.

Stage 2: Add in Liquids and Grains

Now’s the time to add in liquids and grains. Credit: Gado Images.

Once the high-heat browning/sauteing is complete, add in any liquids your recipe calls for. This might include chicken or vegetable stock, canned tomatoes, coconut milk for a curry, etc — anything that is primarily a liquid ingredient. You can keep the Instant Pot on saute at this stage.

If your recipe doesn’t call for lots of liquids, you might need to add a little stock (.5 to 1 cup) or even water to make sure there is enough liquid for it cook properly. You can always boil this down later.

This is also the step where you add in any grains, like rice, quinoa, etc.

Set aside any delicate ingredients, like most fresh herbs, lemon zest, potatoes, spinach or other greens, etc. You can also set aside most dairy ingredients. We’ll return to these in Stage 4.

Stage 3: Pressure Cooking

This is where the Instant Pot shines! Set the pot to Pressure Cook at high pressure, and choose a cooking time.

If your original recipe calls for a short cooking time, like 3–5 minutes on the stovetop, choose 2–5 minutes of high pressure cooking on the Instant Pot.

If the original recipe calls for 10–35 minutes of cooking, like boiling a soup on the stove, making a chili, or cooking a dish in the oven, set your Instant Pot for between 7–15 minutes at high pressure.

If your recipe is a slow-cooking recipe, like ribs, pulled pork, etc. that cooks for several hours normally, set your Instant pot to 30–50 minutes at high pressure. This is the same as 6–8 hours in the slow cooker!

Let your pot come up to pressure and cook for the time you set.

Next, do you natural release or instant release? If your dish has rice or another grain in it, or is a slow-cooked meat, allow for a natural release. Otherwise, an instant release is fine.

Stage 4: Cooking down, Thickening, Adding Delicate Ingredients

In this stage, you cook down or thicken the sauce. Credit: Gado Images.

Unlike traditional cooking methods, the Instant Pot is totally sealed, so it loses very little liquid during the cooking process. This means that modified recipes are often very liquidy at this stage.

That’s no problem–it just means you need to cook them down (reduce), add a thickener, or both.

Take the lid off the pot, and set it back to Saute. If your recipe doesn’t have a sauce (like a chili or pulled pork), cook it on saute until it’s as thick as you like it.

If your recipe does have a sauce–like an Asian chicken dish or chicken Marsala–take a bit of liquid out and put it in a separate bowl, add cornstarch or another thickener (like flour) if your original recipe calls for it, mix it up, and pour it back into the pot. Saute for a few minutes, and the sauce should thicken right up.

This is also the time to add any delicate ingredients, like spinach, fresh herbs, delicate vegetables like potatoes, etc. These ingredients can be mushed up or lose their flavor during the high-pressure cooking cycle, so it’s best to add them at the end.

In most cases, dairy ingredients go in now, too. So if you’re making a mac and cheese dish, you would cook the pasta and other ingredients in the previous steps, and then mix in the cheese now. Same goes for recipes that call for heavy cream or half and half.

Instant Pot soup, all ready to go! Credit: Gado Images.

Another special note is if your recipe calls for alcohol (like red wine in a tomato sauce). Make sure to saute for at least a few minutes with the lid off at this stage. With normal cooking methods, the alcohol has plenty of time to evaporate. With the Instant Pot, it’s sealed in during pressure cooking, so unless you saute for a while with the lid off, your dish can have too much of an alcohol taste.

When you’re done, check for seasoning, and then switch the pot over to Keep Warm until you’re ready to serve.

Congrats, you’ve just modified your first recipe for the Instant Pot! Let me know how it went, or share your recipe, in the comments below.

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