The Book: Dinner In An Instant by Melissa Clark, $23
When New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark published an Instant Pot review early last year, the piece went viral. After spending six weeks testing out the now beloved Canadian invention (read Chatelaine‘s interview with the founder), Clark fell truly, madly, deeply in love with the device — mainly because of the amount of time it saved her in the kitchen. Clark tried the Instant Pot alongside another electric pressure cooker, the Breville Fast Slo Pro, ultimately giving both a thumbs up when it came to making dishes you’d normally slow-cook. She cautioned against using them for roast chicken, anything crispy and meals you could quickly whip up on the stove the old-fashioned way.
Taking these learnings and her new-found fandom, Clark created 75 recipes that play to the strengths of the Instant Pot, slow cookers and pressure cookers. Dinner In An Instant promises time-saving, mouthwatering, weeknight-friendly food. I couldn’t wait to dig in.
I’ve often turned to Melissa Clark for inspiration and am familiar with her recipe style — which can sometimes be pretty involved. For example, in a round-up of her best weeknight dinners, many dishes require over an hour to make (and sometimes time for marinating or chilling). The payoff is that her instructions work and deliver fabulous flavours.
Flipping through the sections of this book (from Yogurt, Cheese and Eggs to Meats or Soups and right down to Dessert), the aspirational element delighted me. Wine Braised Oxtail With Fennel! Tuna Confit With Rosemary and Garlic! But the idea of making them on weeknights seemed fairly grand.
The time commitment for one-pot-style fare, such as her chili, is two hours and requires sautéing in several stages. (I had flashbacks to using Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker book, which delivered amazing results but required a fair amount of hands on time). There were simpler recipes to be found (like Vietnamese Caramel Salmon), which Clark clocks in at 30 minutes. I also breathed a sigh of relief seeing the guide on Instant Pot basics; I am a newbie to the trendy device, and it was nice to have these tips as part of the book itself.
Clark gives slow-cooker variations for all of her recipes, but made all of mine in the Instant Pot. I chose recipes that focused on the techniques Clark believes the machine does well, like risotto and broth, and ones that could be handled on a busy Wednesday night. I also threw in a classic Coq Au Vin to see how it fared using the Instant Pot method. I figured that if I liked the easier stuff, I could dig deeper and attempt something more involved on a leisurely Sunday afternoon.
In a single week, I tried:
Wild Mushroom, Pancetta and Pea Risotto, page 88
Vietnamese Chicken and Rice Soup, page 117
Coq Au Vin Rosé, page 60
Do The Recipes Actually Work?
The short answer is yes. Everything I made was not only delicious, it did indeed deliver next-level flavour. By the time I plated all three recipes (see, I’m not just serving dinner, I’m now plating dinner), I was pretty pleased with myself.
The risotto, which turned out creamy but with a perfect, slightly toothy texture, was indeed much easier to make in the Instant Pot: no need to stand around stirring, scared to leave the stove even for a second. But you still have to sautée the pancetta separately, then the mushrooms and come back to toast the rice for about 5 minutes. I find sautéing in the Instant Pot a bit slower than on the stove, so that frustrated me (as did the assumption in the recipe I had a 4-cup measuring cup to hold the broth). Saying that, this dish provided many excellent lunches and would be an impressive, but uncomplicated recipe for entertaining.
The Vietnamese Chicken and Rice Soup was my comfort wonderwall. It was the easiest dish of the three to put together, though I did cheat and used a good, store-bought stock.
But the smell! When I released the pressure valve it was like the best, most comforting air freshener had been sprayed throughout the kitchen; scents of savoury chicken stock, warm spice and zingy ginger filled the air. Clarke says the soup is one of her all-time faves, and I carried it around in a portable coffee-mug through frigid winter errands.
Finally, I dug into the Coq Au Vin Rosé. The ingredients aren’t complicated and the methodology is straight ahead, but this was one of those “oh man, what else do I have to sauté?” recipes. Sautéing is part and parcel of cooking in a classic Dutch oven, but when required by the “time-saving” Instant Pot recipe, it made me grumpy. I ended up sautéing the chicken in a pan as I couldn’t bear to do it in separate batches in the device. Still, once again, the dish was so tantalizing that my son, who normally will not eat chicken (I know, it’s weird) asked to have it for dinner just from smelling it. Damn you, Melissa Clark.
If you’re an enthusiastic cook and an Instant Pot lover, you’ll find plenty of keeper recipes in here. You’ll also enjoy creating menus that, with a bit of effort, can take you from morning yogurt to evening entertaining. Winter weekends are prime for putzing around the kitchen and meal planning, and you’ll thank yourself when you open that fragrant Thermos on Monday to find perfect risotto leftovers.
I would caution that many of the recipes are more aspirational than attainable for weeknight dishes, but when it comes to Clark’s chicken soup, I’m considering it a new staple.
Ease of Use
Effort Required: Medium Skill Level: Easy/intermediate
Who To Buy It For
• Anyone with an Instant Pot
• Foodie Instant Pot skeptics to show them what’s what — Clark delivers sophisticated results
Where It Will Live
Right next to your Instant Pot, of course.
Watch: Is the Instant Pot Worth The Hype?