Dinner in an Instant (with or without Pressure)

If you have a vintage pressure cooker you want to get rid of, take note: this just sold on eBay for $75 – with $89.35 SHIPPING CHARGES (how could that possibly be?)

Last week we put a lot of pressure on some of our BigLittleMeals contributors to give some instant feedback on their use (or non-use) of pressure cookers and instant pots. Here’s Charlie, our friend and former LSU colleague, with his take on the subject. And Charlie’s remarks are followed up by 9 other BigLittle Meals contributors – all letting their steam off on the subject. And if that’s not enough, Andy in today’s Andy’s Corner takes pressure cooker ambivalence to new heights. The only consensus appears to be that there is no consensus.

Confessions of a Pressure Cooker Snob – by Charlie in Houston

“I loved my pressure cookers (large and small). Don’t tell me you only had one. I loved the way the valve on top rocked back and forth and spewed merrily along. I also loved the way pressure cooking speeded up tasks like making broths, stocks, soups, and stews. As long as I was nearby and vigilant in regulating the temperature, all was well.

In the fullness of time, along came multi-cookers. Every young cook I know discovered cooking under pressure with these new contraptions. But, they were only learning what us veteran cooks had known for years. And, we sure didn’t need some fancy electronic thing to carry on with our traditional method. Who needs all those bells and whistles?

My daughter, one of those young cooks, gave me an Instant Pot for Christmas. I smiled politely and planned a possible home for it in our storage unit. But, she also gave me a very good recipe book. The book saved the gadget (more on the book below). In following the book’s instructions, I discovered the ultimate advantage:  one can walk away from this electric pressure cooker—it regulates temperature itself and will turn off after a set time has elapsed. And, you can tell it to keep the contents warm (or not). The jargon that we old pressure cookers had used (e.g., “quick release” vs. “natural release”) was now common language among 20-somethings doing it all quickly in a single vessel. Many related tasks were simplified, if not automated. The younger set was sauteing (over various heat levels), steaming, boiling, baking and, of course, cooking under pressure. All was not perfect, though. The multi-cooker was not a very good slow cooker, and it did not do rice nearly as well as my rice cooker. That left me heading to the storage unit to retrieve those devices when needed. Rather than exiled to storage, the now indispensable Instant Pot occupies prime in-house cabinet space.

The latest generation of multi-cookers has new features that substantially improve on the early models (see the America’s Test Kitchen January 2021 review on YouTube). If you remain Instant Pot-less, it is time to take the plunge. A few enhancements are tempting enough for me to consider replacing my trusty first-generation multi-cooker and maybe also letting go of the slow cooker and the rice cooker. We shall see.

Hardware aside, the difference maker for this snob was Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant. Her status as a food writer for the New York Times was legitimating enough to get my attention. But, the recipes cleverly showed a range of pressure cooking applications that goes way beyond making stocks and broths. Shrimp in the multi-cooker? Really? Stand by for rubber shrimp! Nope. See why Clark’s recipe below is a favorite.

Our tried and true BigLittleMeals helpers do not all support Charlie’s views on this controversial topic. Even his own daughter has some caveats. And a practically universal response is that these multi-cookers take up too much room. (Editor’s note: each contributor’s approximate age is included since we thought it would be fun to see if age impacts reactions to multi-cookers.)

From Rachel in Houston (age 40+ and daughter of Charlie in Houston age 70+):

I like my instant pot but find that I need to choose recipes carefully so that they are flavorful and the ingredients are not just cooked to smithereens. I appreciate that it can hold things at warm temps for a long time (it’s great for mashed potatoes for a crowd). I think it works best when you are planning to shred meat, like in this recipe for salsa verde chicken: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1020670-pressure-cooker-salsa-verde-chicken

From Nancy in Santa Rosa (age 70+):

I don’t have either of those appliances and really can’t comment because of that. I’m even too lazy for convenience appliances and I’m short of counter space,  but have been thinking of trying an Instapot.

I’ve become a spoiled prepared foods purchaser 🙂

If Nancy is concerned about counter space, here’s CNet’s recommendation for a 3-quart one. It measures 11.4 x 11.2 x 10 inches. Kohl’s has it on clearance sale for $39.99.

From Sara in San Francisco (age 50+):

I’ve never had either! But I did use an Instapot once and found that the whole experience of cooking was lost, no matter that it was easy. I like to smell things, I like to stir things, I like the process. So the romance of that is replaced with convenience. 

Simultaneously I’ve always thought a pressure cooker seemed like a cool thing to have because I love braises so much. Just not ready for more things to put on my counter.

If Sara wants a pressure cooker, Food & Wine recommends this 6 qt Presto – which can be purchased at Home Depot for $79.99 (and free shipping)

From David in Albuquerque (age 76 and almost 2 months):

I don’t have and have never used an Instant Pot. These sound like something that might be useful for someone who doesn’t have a kitchen, maybe, but I have no place for one and no confidence that I’m smart or patient enough to figure out how to use the electronics. I have been tempted to get an air fryer because though fried air doesn’t sound especially tasty it must be very low cal, but I don’t have a place for one. And a friend recently talked up a sous videoutfit, but I figured that would meet the same fate as the vacuum sealer for leftovers that fell into my cart at Costco a few years ago, now out of bags and lost in the back of a cabinet somewhere.

I do have and sometimes use a pressure cooker and often a rice cooker, both of which have homes under the counters. My mom used a pressure cooker, so that seems normal to me. She used it to save time, but I cook mostly to get away with wasting time. Sometimes I’ll use it to cook the bejesus out of a dried out ham hock or some other kind of gnarly meat or bones to make stock, and sometimes to cook beans, but the fact is that I use it seldom and could get along fine without it. As in so many endeavors, less is more. It looks like I’d pay heed to that principle when it comes to writing, eh?

From Moss in San Francisco (age 17+):

I’ve never used either one! They seem very cool to have. I know you can make yogurts and soups. Some have searing options (InstaPots). You can make things very quickly In pressure cookers. I think it’s so versatile and interesting. If I had my own place and more money I would get one! I know you can can stuff and also sanitize things. It isn’t only limited to cooking. You can grow mushrooms in a sterile environment with the help of a pressure cooker and start seedlings in an InstaPot. Very fun. 

With spring on its way, a new and different approach to starting seedlings sounds like fun.

From Deb in Glen Ellen (age 65+):

As for pressure cookers, my mom had one, and I remember not so much the meals, but the sound and rhythm of the mechanism that released pressure, I loved it!  Thinking about the food/meals that were actually produced from the pressure cooker, other methods of cooking, roasting, sautéing, even steaming made the food way more individually authentic and delicious, instead of the seemingly homogenized single taste of one pot cooking.  These tools  might be timesaving, but create food that is just not as interesting.  

I did own a pressure cooker for cooking legumes early in my cooking career, after having the regulator blow off and coat the ceiling with pinto beans, I was done with it.  Lastly, the storage space required for either of them, weighed against the food they create, does not justify a place for them in my kitchen!

From MountainWestBob in Albuquerque (age 75+):

We use an InstaPot and have had it for maybe 4 years. We love it for its slow-cooker features, for the sturdy stainless-steel liner that’s so easy to clean, and so-on. It’s doing chili con pollo for tonight right now, and there will be copious leftovers to enjoy later this week. (Note: here’s a link to Bob’s acclaimed instant pot recipe for Chili con Pollo.)

As for the pressure-cooker feature, fuggeddaboutit! We’ve ruined beef short ribs, a couple of beef roasts and some chicken. Even though the meat is standing in juice and veggies, it comes out dry and tough. We haven’t used the pressure cooker function since those tragic early experiences.

The pressure thing is too much for too little.

From Hannah in Brooklyn (age 35+):

I wish I’d appreciate the instant-pot more, but I’m not a gadget person, so I haven’t taken the time to experiment, and in turn lack the confidence to take advantage of its full functionality. It does make homemade broth and soups incredibly easy/efficient, which alone makes it worth keeping it around.

From Diane in Los Altos (age 75+):

Cooking is my hobby as well as my favorite pastime. A few years ago, I bought an instant pot, because it seemed to be the thing to do, and it was about the only kitchen tool I didn’t have. I’ve never used it. There isn’t room for it in my kitchen, so I would need to get it from a shelf in the utility room. And I never think about it. Now that I’ve been asked my opinion, maybe I should try it. Not for cooking rice, steaming, warming, or sautéing. Maybe as a slow cooker, probably not as a pressure cooker. 
I think I shouldn’t have given away my crock pot. 

If Diane is shopping for a new crock pot, Target has this 4.5 qt one for about $25!

True confession: Andy and I (ages 78+) have neither a pressure cooker nor an instant pot. And though Andy grew up knowing about all the trials and tribulations of a pressure cooker, I don’t even share that. My mom never used one (and my dad didn’t cook). I even had to look at a YouTube video to hear the much-mentioned ominous sound of the pressure releasing.

I guess it “boils” down to how many kitchen tools do we need. And what are the must-haves. If you’ve decided to move ahead and update your current pressure cooker or multi-cooker or buy your first one, here’s a good recommendation:

Serious Eats and J Kenji Lopez-Alt pick this 8-qt Instant Pot Pro 10-in-1 as the best multi-cooker for most people. It was released
in 2021, so it’s a “late generation.” You can get it at Crate & Barrel for $169.95. A 6-qt version is also available and Epicurious recommends that size.

And here’s the recipe that our guest blogger, Charlie, loves – and so do we. D-lish!

Instant Pot Indian Butter Shrimp

Instant Pot Indian Butter Shrimp

Be sure to use the sauté function, not the pressure, once you add the shrimp. Recipe adapted from Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant 2017 cookbook and the NYTimes.


  • 1/4 c plain whole-milk yogurt 
  • 2 tsp ground cumin 
  • 2 tsp sweet smoked paprika (note from Ann: if your spice is just labeled “paprika”, it will work as well)
  • 2 tsp garam masala 
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice 
  • 1 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt 
  • 1 tsp grated ginger 
  • 1 garlic clove, minced 
  • 2 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined (note from Ann: frozen, peeled, and deveined shrimp work wonderfully and make the whole process easy; just dump the frozen shrimp into a bowl of cold water for no more than 15 – 20 minutes and then drain and dry them a little before putting them in the marinade)


  • 4 T (1/2 stick) butter 
  • 2 shallots – or about 1/2 c – minced 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated ginger 
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (note from Ann: ground Kashmiri would also be appropriate, as would 1/4 tsp of cayenne; I actually prefer the ground chili over the flakes)
  • 1/4 tsp Diamond kosher salt, plus more as needed 
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes and their juices
  • 1 c heavy cream 
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest (note from Ann: this could be omitted)
  • Cooked basmati rice, for serving 
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
  • Indian pickles, such as mango or lime, make a nice accompaniment

In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, cumin, paprika, garam masala, lime juice, salt, ginger, and garlic. Stir in the shrimp, cover the bowl, and refrigerate until needed, at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. 

Prepare the sauce: Using the sauté function, set on low if available, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pressure cooker or instant pot. Stir in the shallots and a pinch of salt; cook until golden brown, 4 to 8 minutes. Then stir in the garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and the ¼ teaspoon salt, and cook until golden, another 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, cream, and a pinch of salt. Raise the sauté heat to high if available, and bring to a boil. Then cover and cook on high pressure for 8 minutes.

Release the pressure manually. Remove the lid, and using the sauté function, simmer the sauce, stirring often, until thickened, 3 to 7 minutes. 

Stir in the shrimp and the liquid in the bowl, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and lime zest, and simmer until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, 2 to 5 minutes. Serve over basmati rice, sprinkled with fresh cilantro.

Recipe brought to you by Charlie in Houston and BigLittleMeals.com.


  1. tricia53 says:

    Just a note (as the aforementioned Charlie’s wife) to say that our kitchen is a teeny galley-style in a condo, but we have a dedicated spot in a cabinet for the InstaPot. Oh, and if you eat a lot of beans, as we do, it’s the only way to cook them!


    • theRaggedys says:

      Beans are so nutritious that we all should be cooking and eating lots of them! I cook beans in our old crockpot, but if I had an instant pot, I would certainly use it for bean cooking – and probably more. Maybe I need to find room in our little kitchen? How does it do with rice? Could I replace our rice cooker?


      • tricia53 says:

        As Charlie noted, our OG InstaPot doesn’t cook rice quite as well as our rice cooker, but we don’t eat a lot of rice. The newer models claim to do a better job with rice. Our rice cookers (two sizes) are now relegated to storage.


  2. Janet says:

    If you don’t have a pressure cooker or an instant pot, how did you prepare the shrimp dish? My mother used a pressure cooker regularly and so did Larry.


    • theRaggedys says:

      Good question, Janet! I would prepare the sauce pretty much as written in the recipe – but over low heat on the stove top, simmering it all for about 10 minutes – with no cover. Then I’d add the shrimp (marinade and all) and simmer, stirring, until the shrimp is cooked – which would take about 5 minutes more.


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