Many of us are in lockdown–or under stay-at-home orders. Same here, but I still have my Kindle and internet access. So I gave in to my weakness for cookbooks–as usual (especially with the lower prices for e-books).
Long a fan of Christopher Kimball through Cook’s magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, and America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve followed to Milk Street. I’ve always been successful with recipes from those sources (although sometimes finding things a little under-seasoned for my tastes).
I’m also a lover of my Instant Pot, although I’ve yet to use the slow cooker function on it. Always on the lookout for recipes (at least for inspiration if not the religious following of them), I was happy to discover this book on my “recommended” list. Awesome to see both the pressure function and the slow cooker function covered in one book. (Maybe I’ll get around to trying the slow cooker function sometime–someday.)
What better thing to do when you’re forced to stay at home than cook something. My first venture was determined by foraging in the refrigerator and the freezer, so it’s not exactly like the recipe, but enough to get a feel for the book, and to have a queue of bookmarked recipes to follow for my vicarious travels.
The “Spicy Collard Greens with Tomatoes and Peanuts” (a version of muriwo unedovi) was up for trial with the caveat that I was not going to the grocery store and that I was definitely in need of some green stuff. The freezer yielded frozen collard greens, and there were canned tomatoes in the pantry. The recipe called for chunky peanut butter, but my pantry gave up only a jar of creamy–so I had to do without the crunch. Whole habanero chilies also weren’t lurking in the fridge, so I had to sub in a serrano chile pepper lurking in the crisper. Overall very favorable result for not making a grocery run. Since I’m cooking only for me, I did halve the recipe and everything worked well–not too much in my category of “leftovers”.
In the queue for trying whilst I’m hiding at home is the German-inspired “Braised Red Cabbage with Apples” (one apple lurking in the fridge along with the cabbage), and the “Lentils and Bulgur with Caramelized Onions” which is a riff on my beloved mujaddara (only with bulgur instead of rice).
I wasn’t surprised to find differences in how meat cooks with sous vide and pressure cooking. I want to know more about the best way to cook other things that I use frequently: beans, cabbage, rice, etc. so I decided to do another comparison. Lentils are something that I do use quite often so I thought that a pressure cooker/sous vide test was in order here too.
I got the inspiration to gr cooking lentils from the Joule app on my smartphone. There was a section on “batch cooking”. Normally since I’m always trying to do single-serving cooking and don’t do well with leftovers I’d blow right by a suggestion like that but I noticed that those batch-cooked lentils could be stored in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days. That made sense since they would essentially be pasteurized. Interesting possibility for something that I use in as many ways as I use lentils!
Lentils are so quick cooking on the stove top that you might wonder why use a pressure cooker, or why (particularly with the time required) sous vide. One reason is hands off. In the pressure cooker it’s set and forget until done. The same is true of sous vide; for me that can be an advantage when I’m engrossed in writing and index. So, a comparison of the two methods.
Another thing that made me curious about cooking lentils this way was that they were cooked in pint jars. With the brown lentils I had in the house at 185°F for the recommended 90 minutes, plus the additional recommended 30 minutes I still didn’t have cooked lentils. But I thought this deserved further investigation so I went in search of other recipes for time and temperature suggestions.
My first stop was to consider how to cook lentils in the pressure cooker other than just pushing the “beans/chili” button on the Instant Pot (IP) was to look at American’s Test Kitchen’s Pressure Cooker Perfection. Much to my surprise I didn’t find lentils listed as an ingredient. So to other reliable sources for cooking time suggestions: from Forks over Knives website 20 minutes. From Kitchn, 15 minutes. Both recipes calling for natural pressure release.
For the sous vide (precision cooking) I did find lentil as an ingredient and, thus, instructions for cooking in Sous Vide for Everybody (location 3646). The recipe called for black lentils (sometimes called beluga lentils). Most often I use French green lentils (lentilles du Puy) but I occasionally use brown lentils so I opted to use those. At least I felt I was comparing apples to apples in terms of looking at cooking times and temperature since both were for black lentils.
I had already tried using Mason jars the water bath and in the IP so I decided to use a pint Mason for both methods of cooking.. Although I believe that Ziploc freezer bags are probably safe, I have a think about using as little plastic as possible for environmental reasons if I can use recyclable containers like the Mason jars.
As with the meat, I decided to season both batches the same so that the only difference was the cooking method so the lentils were cooked with only salt as seasoning; it’s the texture that I really wanted to know about. From reviewing recipes from several sources for both electric pressure cooker and sous vide I prepared two pint jars each with 4 3/4 ounces of brown lentils, salt and 8 3/8 ounces of water–one for the pressure cooker and one for the sous vide water bath. The pressure cooker was set for 15 minutes and normal pressure and the sous vide for 194°F and 3 hours (range 3-5 hours. Then the wait began.
The jar from the pressure cooker was cooled (it was sealed) and refrigerated until the sous vide lentils were cooked. That jar was also cooled (it was also sealed) and refrigerated. .
For the taste and texture tests, both jars were removed from the refrigerator, unsealed to look at the lentils before reheating. The cold jars were placed in a cold water bath to reheat to 145°F (1 hour and 30 minutes).
Just looking at the two, there was an obvious difference in how some of the lentils cooked in the IP were “blown out”–i.e. exploded, burst open, etc. Not great for use in a salad. No surprise here given what I’ve read about the differences in other legumes cooked in either of these ways.
Tasted before reheating (cold), lentils cooked in the IP were much softer, really almost mushy, OK in soup especially if you wanted to puree some to thicken it a bit. The sous vide lentils were firm, but tender–just what I’d like if they were for a salad or a side. After reheating, there were still the same differences.
The flavor? I’m struggling to describe the differences in flavor–there definitely was a difference. I think part of it was that the IP lentils you started tasting immediately when they hit you mouth; with the sous vide lentils you didn’t really taste them until you start chewing them. Then there was this burst of flavor which seemed to me to be more intense than with the IP lentils. I found it very difficult to separate flavor from the “mouth feel” of the two batches–I think the texture differences affected my reactions.
After this experiment I think I’ll be cooking a lot of lentils with the sous vide method. If I want lentil soup I’ll be turning to the IP. I’ll also add more salt to both.
It took me a while to join the Instant Pot (IP) cult, but I finally did and I’m glad that I did–I love my IP. Now I’ve added a new gadget to the kitchen: a sous vide immersion circulator.
I had tried some “jury rigged” sous vide (here and here) so I was sure it was a way of cooking I was interested in pursuing.
The Joule, from ChefSteps now has a place in my kitchen. We all also know that you can’t have a new kitchen toy without playing. So I had to decide what to cook first.
When I got my IP one of the first recommendations for something to cook was boneless beef short ribs. I’ve done short ribs as a braise in the oven (love them, but it’s a wintertime thing–not for summer when the A/C is working hard to fight the heat and humidity. As I was browsing amongst the cookbooks on sous vide I found a recommendation of something to try with sous vide. Yep, short ribs. There was even a recipe for them in the app on my smartphone (which you need to operate the Joule). An absolute no-brainer–short ribs by sous vide.
After reading the descriptions of sous vide meat, the scientist in me just had to do a little study of my own. I’ve really enjoyed short ribs out of my IP. Certainly they were not the same as the long oven braise that I would do in the wintertime, but for hands-off cooking and summertime, they are great. It seemed logical that I should cook something using my new sous vide that I knew so I could really get a feel for what sous vide really does. So, a little experimental design here.
I got a package of four very homogeneous-appearing boneless beef short ribs. Two of those went into the IP, and two into the sous vide according to the recipe on my smartphone. I seasoned both the same: garlic powder, onion powder, and salt then set to cooking.
The Joule app gave me a choice of cooking temperatures for ribs: 156°F, 167°F, and 176°F, with 167°F marked as the “fave”. Since I thought a good deal of experimentation had probably gone into those recommendation, I opted for the middle one for the recommended time of 24 hours. (Yes, really.) The other two went into the IP for 90 minutes that I’d previously used to get nice tender short ribs. (I’d tried less time, higher pressure but didn’t get the result I wanted. Less and there was just a bit too much chew to the meat.)
When the short ribs in the IP were cooked, I cooled them quickly, put them into a freezer bag and refrigerated them. (The freezer bag was because the sous vide ones and my IP ones would be reheated in the water bath.) At the end of the 24 hours, I chilled the sous vide ribs and refrigerated them too.
For the taste test, reheated both batches in the sous vide water bath at 140°F for 35 minutes and plopped them onto a plate and dug side by side and dug in. Was there a difference? Yes there was.
After all the descriptions of meat cooked sous vide I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The seasoning on them was just about the same so they were beefy, onion-y, and garlicky. The appearance was slightly different: the IP ribs were a bit darker. Both were very tender, but the “mouth feel” of the sous vide ribs was much moister than those from the IP.
I really like the sous vide ribs! Am I going to give up cooking them in the IP? Not likely since it’s also hands off, but it’s quick. Will cook more ribs using sous vide? You bet! I’ll certainly want to try some different temperatures, though. I perusing the Sous Vide for Everybody* cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen I found that their suggestion of time an temperature for braised short ribs was 160°F for 20 to 24 hours.
When thinking about sous vide you have to remember we’re talking precision cooking here–not hit or miss, or close. So it’s likely to take a bit to get the feel for just how I like things cooked using sous vide, but it should be an exciting journey.
A son gôut!
*Note: If you’re skulking on Amazon for sous vide cookbooks, be sure to look carefully at the author or editors. There is another with the exact title except that it has 2019 appended.
Cooking pork spare ribs to that point where they are extremely luscious and tender is usually a long process, usually involving the oven (at least for me). Even in the cooler weather this didn’t seem to be an option even with windows and doors open; however it occurred to me that I had another option: the Instant Pot. So despite the rather humid (even if cool) weather and the prospect of hotter weather imminent, that package of spare ribs went home with me.
I’ve cooked other meat (e.g. beef short ribs) in my Instant Pot with wonderful results so that was my plan. Realizing that i was going to have an abundance of pork I started thinking of ways to deal with it: some for the freezer perhaps since there are lots of things to do with good cooked pork.
My favorite way of cooking many things in the Instant Pot (IP) is the pot-in-pot method*–a container with a lid inside the Instant Pot. My reason for using this method so often is that in cooking for one I’m often using rather small quantities in a six-quart IP. Often I don’t want to add as much liquid as would be necessary cooking directly in the container of the pot itself.
I like this method especially for meats. The broth that you collect is undiluted by water so you have broth that is flavorful and will gel nicely. So that is how the spare ribs were cooked. The only “disadvantage” to this method is that you may need to increase the cooking times but since I use the IP mainly because of hands-off method and flavor I don’t find that to be a problem.
It really isn’t possible to give quantities for things like the peppercorns or precisely for the salt–you’ll have to judge by your taste.
about 2 to 2-1/2 pounds boneless pork spare ribs
2 bay leaves
whole black peppercorns (a lot–about a generous teaspoon or more if you like pepper
4 or 5 cloves of garlic
salt (more than you would think)–about 2 or 3 teaspoons
The day before or at least three or four hours ahead of cooking, sprinkle the spare ribs generously with kosher salt.
When ready to cook, rinse if there is still salt visible and pat the meat dry.
Cut the strips into 2- or 3-inch chunks (to fit into your bowl).
Add 1 cup of water to the IP container, place the trivet, and set the covered bowl on the trivet.
Close the IP and set to “meat”. These took about 90 minutes at high pressure.
I removed a healthy serving of the cooked spare ribs for my supper on that cool, rainy evening (with sides of cabbage and some rice) and then cooled the remaining in the broth (and the fat) for another use.
Cooks notes: *This is a rather long video but it introduces the pot-in-pot method and containers suitable for this. I almost always use a cover on the inner pot so that additional liquid doesn’t collect in it. For more on containers see this link, this link, or here.
I’m sure that you’ve gathered from my posts that I really like my Krups multifunction pot: rice cooker, steamer, slow cooker, and even a bit of sous vide thrown in. It was a good kitchen friend…and I hope to pass it on to someone who will care for it as much as I did since it’s still in good working condition.
Some time ago a friend loaned me his “extra” pressure cooker, and I like it a lot. I kept thinking that as much as I used beans that it would be useful for me to have a pressure cooker–not just because of the beans, but because it would be a good way to do summer cooking when I don’t want to tax the air conditioning; however, I just never got around to adding another thing to the kitchen. I even decided which I would buy when I did add it. A Fagor that could be used with an induction unit. As a proficient procrastinator, I just never got around to buy the pressure cooker. Now I’m glad that I didn’t.
I did add the DASH yogurt maker (yes, homemade is better) to my batterie de cuisine and I’m glad that I did, but that, too, is going to a new home where it will be appreciated. Are you wondering yet what is going on in my kitchen?
You’ve probably guessed–the Instant Pot has invaded my kitchen. I’ve now had it for eleven days (as of 01 October 2017). It did not linger in the box. It was unpacked and used the day after it arrived. So far it has been used at least once a day every day that it has been here.
This wasn’t a spur of the moment purchase. I did a lot of research before I decided to purchase one, and a lot more before I decided which one I wanted to buy. I read a lot of reviews, perused a lot of recipes, checked out the Facebook Instant Pot Community, and went so far as reading America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated reviews of the multifunction cookers which were pretty damning)–but I bought it anyway because I think that once I “get a feel” for how it works it will be a great kitchen appliance.
I’ve made my lamb and garbanzo bean stew in it, cooked my steel-cut oatmeal in it, made soup, and a number of other things already. Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve in terms of seasonings, but I find it really pretty intuitive (although I did let my OCD show and read the manual). So far I’m pleased with this new addition to my kitchen. It would appear that a few other single-use appliances will need to find new homes–even the egg cooker.
My morning breakfast quandary of food versus functionality has been solved. I think that one of the most pleasurable things since cool weather has finally arrived here is my morning bowl of steel-cut oatmeal. Frankie, the cat, has steadfastly refused to cook it. I’m often working before I’m ready to cook. Now the Instant Pot has taken over that job. Using the “pot-in-pot” technique (which was one idea that helped persuade me that I needed the Instant Pot) I can put breakfast on before I go to bed, and it’s hot and ready to eat when I’ve finished my first round of cafe latte.
Another plus for me was that the Instant Pot has a stainless steel liner (so you can saute right in the pot)’. The Krupps multifunction pot to which I am bidding farewell had a nonstick liner so required some care in using it. (Yes, I’ll give the stainless steel inner pot due respect to that it doesn’t get scratched up, too–because that’s just the way good cookware should be treated.)
So–at this point, despite its yeoman’s service in my kitchen for quite a number of years, this is a requiem for that useful appliance–and hope to find it a good home and I’ll be embarking on more cooking adventures with the Instant Pot.
P.S. It remains in my kitchen for the sole purpose of taking the mashed potatoes to our Thanksgiving Day gathering since it does that better than the Instant Pot–it’s a bit lighter and easier to tote around.