Instant Pot: Icon of a Distracted Generation

I stumbled upon the Instant Pot in discussing roast cut sizes with a fellow Farmers Market vendor. She raises pigs and claims the only size her customers want is 2-3 pound roasts that will fit in a “crockpot”. Well, turns out the Instant Pot is to NOW as the Crockpot was to the distant 80’s. A 30-somethin’ customer interested in my beef Sirloin steak claimed to cook both steaks and roasts using the “pressure cook” function . She was amazed by the idea of saute’ing a steak to completion and strangely equated the terms “sear” and “saute” – echoing precisely Instant Pot literature’s blithe conflation. I was about to learn how Instant Pot comforts her generation in it’s forgiveness of distraction.

Intrigued by how a device with zero connectivity and otherwise no more technologically advanced than a millennium era dishwasher could enrapture an entire generation, I set out to test the outcome quality and experience of Instant Pot cooking . Believing these held the key to it’s popularity I bought a 6 qt Duo model and prepared their page 24 “Beef Roast w/Potatoes and Carrots”. I began searing the 2 pound chuck roast at 5:30 pm and the sauce wasn’t finished reducing until 8 pm so the recipe claim of 55 minutes is ridiculously optimistic. With no fun whistle to blow, singing tribute to all that wasted steam…..

…..time grinds to a standstill – like a RAV4 in 3 foot deep mud – waiting for the pot to complete it’s eternal venting and subsequent leisurely reheating between component addition steps. Of course Millennials don’t notice: they’re distracted checking 9 different social media feeds, tweaking profiles, creating content, researching a new gig…..

Also, unlike traditional oven roasting, the wine addition is delayed until AFTER cooking so the meat isn’t exposed to the flavoring impact. Probably a safety concern due to the potential fireball-ish flammability of quickly-vented alcohol vapor. End result is a huge amount of very thin, unconcentrated-by-evaporation “broth” to reduce into something resembling a sauce at the end of cooking. The recipe directions failed to specify point of fresh parsley addition so I waited to after reduction with “saute” function just cancelled.

Results were better than expected though everything was overcooked. Beef was falling apart with an internal temp of 202 deg F. Potatoes were crumbling. Carrots very soft. I expected something on the order of Dinty-Moore canned beef stew but this was surprisingly much better and I’d give it a 6 rating. By comparison Lisa’s Lazy Pot Roast takes 3 hours for the beef but you can steam or boil the veg’s simultaneously for a quality outcome score more around 8. No tedious venting but the joy of lifting a casserole lid from the oven and inhaling the wonderful aroma your whole kitchen has been suggesting. Or the ultimate: Julia’sBeouf Bourguignon which rates a solid 10.

So unless you’re already an Instant Pot zealot, homeless but otherwise fortunate enough to have access to 110 volt power, or your kitchen space and budget confine you to a single pot costing $60 and occupying a square foot of space you can aspire to a much greater quality and variety of textural/flavor outcomes with a traditional gas range/oven combo and a decent set of thick-bottom pans with tight fitting lids. The convenience and time savings of Instant Pot -particularly in a single pot discipline with mid-cook additions – are grossly overrated.

Recipes Steaks

Sauteed Filet Mignon (Tenderloin Steak)

Filet or Tenderloin is a unique cut; relatively lean but quite tender it requires very little cooking time and is best done only to “rare” to “medium- rare” (remove from heat at 115 to 130 deg F and rest beef 2-5 minutes before slicing). It has a delicate flavor and -with little fat- is intolerant of overcooking; so unless you are a grill master it’s best to bypass the grill in favor of the saute pan. Simply remember: treat tenderloin tenderly.

This recipe from Aidells and Kelly (The Complete Meat Cookbook) for 1 to 1.5 pounds of steak involves a simple pan sauce to compliment the mild beef flavor. Simply ratio the sauce ingredient quantity to the weight of steak you are preparing so the reduced sauce flavor doesn’t overwhelm the steak. Reliable, high quality results that I’ve benefited from more than once.

Dry steak surface with paper towels and sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and fresh (dry works in a pinch) rosemary.

Heat heavy skillet and add 2 T olive oil. Adjust heat to just below smoke point and add beef, sauteeing 3-5 minutes per side to an internal temp of 115 to 130 deg F. Remove to a pre-warmed plate, cover loosely and rest.

Sautee 2 t minced garlic in remaining oil in skillet until just turning color. Add 1/4 cup vermouth and reduce to a syrup consistency while stirring with a spatula. Add 1/4 cup beef or chix stock, 2 t soy sauce and 1 T balsamic vinegar. reduce to syrup while stirring . Remove from heat and stir -melt-in 1 T butter. Serve finished sauce over rested steaks on pre-warmed plates.