“Multicooker Perfection” by America’s Test Kitchen is far more practical, offering both a collection of good recipes and exploring the many different uses of the device. Did you know you can fry chicken wings in an Instant Pot? I tried it, and it works. If you’re in need of a cookbook with obsessively tested recipes mixed with geeky guides to the unique features of the device, this is a safe bet.
But it’s not my favorite Instant Pot cookbook. That honor belongs to Urvashi Pitre’s “Indian Instant Pot Cookbook,” a beginner’s guide to Indian cuisine.
No, the book doesn’t have an in-depth guide to the many buttons on the front panel, nor does it discuss the specifics of cleaning the lid. And it definitely does not claim that you should chuck your saute pan into the garbage and cook every dish in the device. But that’s also kind of the best part. Just flip open the book, find something that sounds tasty and get to work. After all, the Instant Pot is a breeze to use.
If her last name doesn’t ring a bell, you may have heard of the “butter chicken lady,” the Facebook group star recently profiled by The New Yorker. It’s all thanks to her recipe for butter chicken that currently has been shared on her website 53,000 times!
While she’s been cooking for years, Pitre doesn’t have the background one would normally associate with the leader of a growing home cooking empire. In fact, cooking isn’t even her day job. She’s also the CEO of Tasseologic, a customer relationship management company that she founded in Dallas.
So, how did an enterprising CEO set the online food world alight with an Instant Pot cookbook? “In the beginning of last year, I became really fed up with my job,” admits Pitre over the phone. “I decided to cook for a stress release. But I can’t do anything casually, so I started to get really serious. Then for some reason, the butter chicken just took off. I have no idea how it happened.”
I know why the dish went viral. That particular recipe, also known as murgh makhani, takes about 15 minutes of prep work and is ready to eat in less than a half-hour, yet it tastes wildly complex. Sharp fresh ginger and tickling cayenne jump out immediately, while the haunting fragrance of garam masala (the multipurpose Indian spice blend made of cumin, coriander, cinnamon and other spices) waits in the background. It sounds aggressive, but it’s balanced by a blanket of creamy butter, which gives the dish its name.
You really get the feeling that each recipe was designed specifically with the Instant Pot in mind, instead of an older recipe being adapted to the new machine, because they always work. I know because I’ve tried nearly a dozen of them, and they have all been astonishingly easy and dramatically flavored. The Punjabi chicken curry and lamb rogan josh require about the same effort as setting up a slow cooker stew, yet taste vibrant and alluring. (Not to mention, they take about a tenth of the time.)
Unlike other Indian cookbooks that bill themselves as easy, Pitre doesn’t take the usual shortcuts. She never calls for a jar of curry powder. In many ways, it’s a akin to such essential beginner cookbooks as “Mexican Everyday” by Rick Bayless, “101 Easy Asian Recipes” by Lucky Peach or “The Breath of a Wok” by Grace Young, which offer a warm, approachable introduction to a cuisine without dumbing things down. You’ll learn how to make garam masala and ghee from scratch. The book won’t replace such in-depth guides as “660 Curries” by Raghavan Iyer (whose recipe for garam masala Pitre uses), but that’s not the point.
In some ways, it makes sense that the best Instant Pot cookbook focuses on Indian food. Pressure cookers were extremely popular in India long before the Instant Pot was even invented. “Most of us cook with pressure cookers in India,” says Pitre. “I’ve been cooking since I was 14, and I’m 52 now.” As you’d expect for someone as ambitious as Pitre, this is just the beginning. Her second cookbook, “The Keto Instant Pot Cookbook” was released March 20. (Keto is short for ketogenic diet, which, in a highly simplified form, advocates a diet high in fat, medium in protein and low in carbs.) As you can tell by the title, she’s expanding beyond just Indian food. “I don’t just cook Indian food at home,” says Pitre. “I love Mexican, Thai, American and Korean.”
Since that’s still not enough, she’s also working on a cookbook for the air fryer, which many are claiming will be the next must-have kitchen gadget. That may be true, but it’s hard to see how the Instant Pot craze will slow down anytime soon, especially when you have great cookbooks like this one to keep you busy in the kitchen for the foreseeable future.
Total time: 55 minutes
Prep: 15 minutes
Manual: 10 minutes high pressure
Saute: 5 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
This recipe, also called murgh makhani, comes from “Indian Instant Pot Cookbook” by Urvashi Pitre (Rockridge Press, $12.99).
1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes (do not drain)
5 or 6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground paprika
2 teaspoons garam masala, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken (breasts or thighs)
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, cut into cubes, or 1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream or full-fat coconut milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. In the inner cooking pot of the Instant Pot, add the tomatoes, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cayenne, paprika, 1 teaspoon of the garam masala, cumin and salt. Mix thoroughly, then place the chicken pieces on top of the sauce.
2. Lock the lid into place. Select Manual, and adjust the pressure to High. Cook, 10 minutes.
3. When the cooking is complete, let the pressure release naturally. Unlock the lid. Carefully remove the chicken, and set it aside.
4. Using an immersion blender in the pot, blend together all the ingredients into a smooth sauce. Let the sauce cool for several minutes.
5. Add the butter cubes, cream, remaining 1 teaspoon of garam masala and cilantro. Stir until well incorporated. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon when you’re done.
6. Remove half of the sauce and freeze it for later, or refrigerate for up to 3 days.
7. Add the chicken back to the sauce. Heat the Instant Pot by selecting Sautee, and adjust to Less for low heat. Let the chicken heat through. Break it up into smaller pieces if you like, but don’t shred it. Serve over rice or raw cucumber noodles.
Nutrition information per serving: 244 calories, 20 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 109 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 14 g protein, 420 mg sodium, 0 g fiber