Greg DuPree
Active Time
20 MIN
Total Time
1 HR 30 MIN
Yield
Serves : 4 to 6

I’m a cook who loves to hover over a pot and observe the transformation of ingredients, but let’s face it, most people just want to get into the eating action. That’s where modern, time-saving appliances like pressure cookers such as the Instant Pot come in. They can’t do everything well, but they’re fabulous for certain things, like dishes that normally require long simmering and slow cooking.

This Vietnamese beef stew (bo kho, pronounced “baw caw”) from my book, Vietnamese Food Any Day, is the perfect example. It appeared in the February issue of Food & Wine prepared in a Dutch Oven with a three-hour cook time. This French-inspired stew is a dream simmering on your stovetop with the aromas of lemongrass and star anise wafting through your home. But you can still enjoy the same flavor in about half the time with a little help from your Instant Pot.

I quickly discovered that adapting traditional recipes for the pressure cooker isn’t as simple as cutting regular cooking time. Appliances require you to adjust to their functionalities. Here’s a quick rundown of the changes I made to the recipe and why. And don’t worry if you don’t own an Instant Pot; you can get the original Dutch oven version of the recipe here.

Pressure cookers extract and meld flavors fast. But there’s a lot of hedging and guessing because once the lid is locked in place, you can’t see what’s going on inside the pot. Cooking happens as pressure builds, during actual pressure cooking, and while the pot depressurizes. From past experiences with pressure cookers, I guesstimated that the beef would require about 40 percent of the normal cook time (1 hour and 15 minutes) for the beef to become tender-chewy. That’s why in the recipe below, the beef is cooked at high pressure for 10 minutes and naturally depressurized for 18 minutes; also factored in is a little cooking time at the front end as the pressure builds.

There’s a difference between a regular stovetop pressure cooker that ventilates and whistles while it works and an electric multicooker like the Instant Pot that operates in silence. Whereas some evaporation happens in stovetop models, there’s little to no moisture loss in machines like the Instant Pot. To compensate, I cook with less liquid in a multicooker than in a regular pressure cooker.

During the last step, when you’re simmering the beef with the carrots, that’s when things start to slide back into comforting and familiar. The lid is off while things bubble away—you can the verify the meat’s tenderness and witness the cooking first-hand. At the end of the day, the Instant Pot recipe conversion was a success. My home still smelled wonderful—and I had an entire extra hour all to myself. Combining old-school recipe with a modern appliance turned this weekend project into a deliciously doable weeknight ditty.

How to Make It

Step 1    

Combine beef, fish sauce, brown sugar, and five-spice powder in a large bowl; toss to coat, and set aside.

Step 2    

Program a 6-quart programmable electric pressure cooker to sauté. Add canola oil; working in batches, sear beef on all sides, about 3 minutes, adding additional oil between batches as needed. Transfer seared beef to a plate. Reserve any leftover marinade in bowl.

Step 3    

Reduce heat. Add onion, ginger, and garlic to pressure cooker, and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Increase heat to sauté; add tomatoes, lemongrass, star anise, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture resembles a rough wet paste, 4 to 6 minutes.

Step 4    

Return beef and accumulated juices and any reserved marinade to cooker. Stir to combine, and add 2 1/2 cups water to cover beef. Lock lid. Program cooker to cook at high pressure 10 minutes. Turn it off or unplug it, and naturally depressurize for 18 minutes; carefully turn pressure release valve to venting position to release remaining pressure from cooker until float valve drops.

Step 5    

Unlock lid. Beef should be chewy-tender and should feel firm but yield when pressed. Skim off fat, if needed, and add carrots. Set cooker to sauté, and cook, uncovered, until beef and vegetables are tender and sauce has intensified, about 30 minutes. Add additional water if sauce reduces too much. Let stew rest, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes. Add additional salt or fish sauce to intensify flavor if needed, or splash in additional water to lighten it.

Step 6    

Remove and discard lemongrass, bay leaf, and star anise (warn guests of potential lingering bits). Divide stew among shallow bowls, and garnish with cilantro. Serve warm.

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