My mother never met a labor-saving device she didn’t love. And if there were any time-savings to be had, she would be first in line to buy it. She was especially fond of anything that kept her out of her least favorite room in the house, the kitchen. So of course, she bought a Pressure Cooker. I vividly remember an ugly aluminum pot with what’s called a “Jiggler” valve on its top. I also distinctly remember wild rattling and hissing sounds coming out of the kitchen whenever the Pressure Cooker was in use. I don’t think we ever had a complete explosion of the Pressure Cooker. But we came perilously close. The problem lay in the fact that my mother would abandon the Pressure Cooker on the hot stove for Martinis in the Living Room. The only timer she seemed to use was when the noise became almost earth shattering. Innumerable times she actually burned things in the Pressure Cooker. It was not an appliance I had a lot of affection for.
Until I was writing this, I had no idea that the Pressure Cooker is practically ancient. It was invented in France in 1679. One Denis Papin, a physicist, invented what was called the Steam Digester. It was an airtight cooker that used steam pressure to raise water’s boiling point thereby cooking food faster. There was no commercial application of M. Papin’s Steam Digester and it was considered a scientific experiment without a practical application. Much later, in 1864, in Stuttgart, George Gutbrod began making cast iron pressure cookers. In 1920s Spain, Jose Alix Martinez patented the “Olla Express” which literally means “Express Cooking Pot”. He was so enthusiastic about his invention that he wrote a cookbook featuring 360 recipes solely for use in a pressure cooker. In this country, a man named Alfred Vischer presented his “Flex-Seal Speed Cooker” in 1938, the first pressure cooker designed for home use. And then, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which my mother attended, the National Pressure Cooker Company, later known as National Presto Industries, introduced its own Presto Pressure Cooker.
It’s hard to imagine my mother “discovering” the pressure cooker on her visit to the World’s Fair. (It’s hard to imagine her having any interest in any kitchen appliance at the World’s Fair or elsewhere.) The War intervened. Both my parents left Canada to serve in the War. The Pressure Cooker I remember likely made its way into our house in the 50s. That’s likely why, when the Instant Pot appeared last year, I didn’t rush to buy one. But suddenly, I began to feel like the last person to buy a Cuisinart, completely out of it. People I admire tremendously waxed on about how incredible their Instant Pots were. How they can use them daily and save hours of time. How versatile they are…cooking rice, making yogurt and porridge in a flash. How they ‘convert’ to slow cookers with the hit of a button. One of my gurus, Melissa Clark was rhapsodic in The New York Times. And she did provide today’s excellent recipe for Pulled Pork in or out of the Instant Pot. But I think the thing that sent me to Amazon Prime was the fact that the Instant Pot is as Canadian as my family is. There’s a Horatio Alger quality to the story of it invention by a Chinese Canadian called Robert Wang.
And so my Instant Pot arrived last Fall. Now you may wonder why, when you write a Food Blog, in the weeks since its arrival, I haven’t posted a single dish made in my Instant Pot. Is it because the Instant Pot takes up a huge piece of real estate in our New York City kitchen, a space a little bigger than a breadbox? No. It’s because I am singularly unimpressed with my Instant Pot. First of all, let’s talk about the time-saving component. I don’t think there is one. The amount of time waiting for the steam to build up and then waiting for it to escape is staggering. Any idea that you’ll have dinner on the table in no time is fiction. But let’s start at the beginning. I was pleased to see that there is a Sauté function which slow cookers do not have and which is why I almost never use a slow cooker. Sauteeing meat at 8:00 in the morning for the evening meal is not my idea of a good idea. Unfortunately, the sauté function on Instant Pot is hard to control. With just three settings, you have nowhere near the range of temperatures you have on a gas stove top. Then there’s the terrific disappointment I’ve had every time I’ve opened the Instant Pot after the steam is finally released. The contents of the pot are awash in way too much liquid. This requires cranking up that Sauté function again to reduce the water-y overload to something resembling a sauce which often takes a very long time…
What else? Rice has been a dried-out disaster. The Slow Cooker feature is a bust. Andrew and I went out to the movies, leaving it on only to come home to discover the unit had switched off, heaven knows when. Another instance of waiting and waiting for the food to cook followed.
Finally, when you’ve reduced your sauces, when your meat has been tenderized and your dish served, is there any difference whatsoever between it and something cooked in a Dutch Oven over low heat? No. That by the way is the reason I’ve included one of Melissa Clark’s Instant Pot recipes.
Because the result was the only thing I’ve cooked that was really good. But I can’t help thinking I could have just as easily hauled out the Le Creuset and gotten the exact same results with a little more patience than the most diehard fan of the Instant Pot needs.
Here’s the recipe: And if you don’t have an Instant Pot, don’t worry. You can cook this a little longer on the top of the stove and have Garlicky Cuban Pulled Pork that’s a perfect filling for Tacos or Pulled Pork Sandwiches.
Garlicky Cuban Pulled Pork
Drenched in citrus flavor, cumin-scented and garlic laced, this Pulled Pork is great as a Taco or Sandwich Filling
- 8 garlic cloves
- Juice of 1 grapefruit (about 2/3 cup)
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 4- to 5-pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 bay leaf
- Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for serving
- Lime wedges, for serving
- Hot Sauce, for serving
- Tortillas, for serving (optional)
- Fresh tomato salsa, for serving (optional)
- Step 1 In a blender or mini food processor, combine the garlic, grapefruit juice, lime zest and juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, brown sugar, oregano, cumin, and salt
- Step 2 process until blended. Transfer to a large bowl and add the pork and bay leaf
- Step 3 toss to combine. Marinate, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour (or refrigerate for up to 6 hours).
- Step 4 Using the sauté function set on high if available, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the pressure cooker (or use a large skillet). Remove the pork from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and shake the meat to remove any excess liquid. Cook until it is browned on all sides, about 12 minutes (you will need to do this in batches, transferring the browned pork pieces to a plate as you go).
- Step 5 When all the pork is browned, return the pieces to the pot along with any juices from the plate. (If you used a skillet, add 1 tablespoon water and use a wooden spoon to scrape the skillet well to include all the browned bits stuck to the bottom.) Add the reserved marinade to the pot. Cover and cook on high pressure for 80 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
- Step 6 Remove the pork from the cooking liquid (jus). Taste the jus, and if it seems bland or too thin, boil it down either in the pressure cooker on the sauté setting or in a separate pot on the stove until it thickens slightly and intensifies in flavor, 7 to 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and add a bit of salt if necessary. If you’d like to degrease the jus, use a fat separator to do so, or just let the jus settle and spoon the fat off the top.
- Step 7 Shred the meat, using your hands or two forks. Toss the meat with the jus to taste (be generous-1 1/2 to 2 cups should do it), and serve with cilantro, lime wedges, and hot sauce.