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A Harte Appetite: The Instant Pot

flickr user Alachua County (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

I wish I could be as productive in my free time as Robert Wang.  Laid off from the very software company he had co-founded, he didn’t loaf, but, rather, turned his attention toward a problem he had not formerly had time to consider:  how to feed his family healthy meals, as opposed to fast food and carryout, even when he had little time to cook.  Wang, a Ph.D. in computer science, got together with a couple of other telecom engineers and spent a year and a half and $300,000 in life savings working on the project.

Before it was all over, Wang and his colleagues had invented one of the most revolutionary cooking devices ever, so successful that it has become the top-selling item on Amazon, spawned a Facebook group with over a million followers, and achieved near cult status.

The Instant Pot is fundamentally a pressure cooker, a device invented way back in 1679 by the French physicist Denis Papin.  It impressed members of the British Royal Society, including Isaac Newton. Like my mother’s, it occasionally exploded.

But when safely harnessed by technology, as it is in an Instant Pot, pressure can do amazing things to food.  Tough cuts of meat become incredibly tender, risotto turns out extra creamy, beans don’t turn to mush.  In a word, it’s not its time-saving and convenience features that make the Instant Pot so desirable, it’s what it does to food.

I’ve fallen in love with lots of appliances ranging from a Kitchen-Aid mixer to a Cuisinart to a high speed blender. Cooking under pressure,  with apologies to the late Freddie Mercury, for me has given love one more chance.

Balsamic Beef Short Ribs

This recipe adapted from the official Instant Pot cookbook, may convince you that what the Instant Pot can do for short ribs might be reason enough to get one.

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 bone-in beef short ribs (3-½ pounds)
1-½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
6 smashed cloves of garlic
1 (14-½ ounce) can crushed tomatoes
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup water
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 medium yellow onion, quartered|
1-¼ pounds whole baby potatoes
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Season short ribs with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in Instant Pot on saute setting.  Brown short ribs in two batches and set aside.  Add garlic to pot and cook, stirring, 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes, vinegar, water, thyme, and bay leaves.  Nestle short ribs and onion into sauce and put potatoes on top.  Cancel saute setting and lock pot lid in place.  Close pressure-release valve.  Set pot to high pressure and set timer to 45 minutes.  When ribs are finished cooking, use quick release method to depressurize pot, then open lid.  Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs, and serve, spooning sauce over ribs and vegetables.  Sprinkle with parsley and lemon zest.

Tom Harte is a retired faculty member from Southeast Missouri State University where he was an award-winning teacher, a nationally recognized debate coach, and chair of the department of Speech Communication and Theatre.
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