Sailing Totem: Favorite Instant-Pot Recipes for Cruising

These tried-and-true recipes are boater-tested and family-approved.

Jammy eggs
This delicious breakfast photo has us dreaming about eggs cooked in the Instant Pot, thanks to Susan and Travis Ruse on Motu. Courtesy of Travis and Susan Ruse

After six months of using my Instant Pot, I have some opinions. One I’m sure of: This gadget is going to make the short list of galley MVPs on board our Stevens 47, Totem. Another strong opinion is that the benefits of an Instant Pot are largely similar to a conventional stovetop pressure cooker. Both will reduce galley heat, lower fuel consumption and allow great shortcuts that I detailed a few months ago in “Is an Instant Pot Worth it?” 

Readers asked for favorite Instant Pot recipes. I’ve had a lot of time to try standard family favorites, and I’ve been exploring additional recipes to fit our sailing life. I polled friends and a favorite forum to glean the onboard favorites from other folks, too. 

Preparing meals ahead helps

When I solicited input on the Pressure Cooking on Boats Facebook group, Cindy Smith on her Oyster 54 Oyster Reach jumped in to say, “Just made pulled pork tonight in prep for passage from New Zealand to Fiji.” She’s been patiently waiting for a weather window and is now on her way. One of her favorite recipes? Bobotie, a South African specialty we’ve come to love. Not just an easy make-ahead, but easily reheated in a pressure cooker too. The recipe she shared is below.

Canning meats
Canning meat is one of many reasons Behan loves having a pressure cooker on board. Shown here are three different kinds of beef, canned with an Instant Pot Max. Behan Gifford

One-pot meals win underway 

“Beans are one of our go-to passage meals,” says Erin Easingwood, who sails Skookum V, a Leopard 40, with her family, and has shared a few winning recipes with me in the past. And she’s right: When you can cook a meal in one pot (especially if juggling the helm and/or two busy children), your day at sea just got one tick easier. Simplified prep, fewer dishes and pressure cookers have locking lids by design, which means added safety if seas are spicy. 

Meals (and treats) made easy

Not gonna lie: I felt a little homesick when Roberta Darrow , who owns the Islander 36 Mystic in Mexico and the Transpacific Eagle 53 trawler Happy Talk in Puget Sound, posted from the Pacific Northwest about how the Instant Pot is ideal for preparing fresh-cracked Dungeness crab on her boat. Another new trick I learned? Whole coconuts are easily peeled after a few minutes under pressure. Cooking under pressure was a lifesaver for my hearty carnivores since unaged (and never refrigerated) meat in remote locales tends to be tough otherwise.

A well-fed crew is a happy crew

Sometimes, it’s easy, healthy snacks: Setting an exact cook time on an Instant Pot results in hard-boiled eggs that are perfect and easy-peel. Sometimes, it’s more substantial sustenance, such as comfort food readily prepared after a hard day’s boat work.

dolphins
Underway in the South Atlantic with dolphins for company. One-pot meals win underway, and beans cooked in the Instant Pot are a go-to passage classic. Behan Gifford

The recipes

Here’s a roundup of recipes that I hope you all enjoy. The first few are staple recipes referenced by many sailors. The rest are favorite recipes for pressure cooking on board. Some are linked, some are written out, all are delicious. 

Yogurt

Being able to DIY yogurt on board is helpful for access (it’s not sold in many places) and reducing waste (no more plastic tubs). The Boat Galley has a great yogurt recipe. It uses powdered milk and a thermos, but readily adapts to use the yogurt function on an Instant Pot. 

One boater who uses this recipe in her Instant Pot says: “I got rid of the thermos to make more space, and I don’t think the Instant Pot uses much power to maintain a temperature of about 115 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours.” 

I might actually move our single-use, rather large EasiYo Yogurt machine off the boat now.

Rice

Rice has been the most widely available staple along the entirety of our circumnavigation.

As a college student, I researched wet rice agriculture—including living in a village in the foothills of an Indonesian volcano and helping with the harvest. It is the standing family joke that I am terrible at cooking rice on the stove, but having a rice cooker on board? Who does that? Then, I was introduced to perfect-every-time rice in a stovetop pressure cooker. The Instant Pot’s set-it-and-forget-it capability leveled me up.  

One cruiser takes it a step farther: “You can even cook rice in your pressure cooker. I put my rice, seasoning and water on the bottom, then slice sausage on top and pressure cook. Total meal in one pot. The sausage juices drip down and seasons the rice. Yum!”

Indonesian rice paddies
Indonesian rice paddies at various stages of growth. The Instant Pot’s set-it-and-forget-it ability to cook rice is a game changer. Behan Gifford

Passage beans

The ease of stowing dried beans makes them a favorite among cruisers. They taste better than their canned brethren, and create less garbage. Cooking dried beans is often the first thing new pressure cooker owners learn to appreciate. Aboard Skookum V, Erin makes what she calls Passage Beans that are similar to what we enjoy, too, based on this recipe and interpreted for an Instant Pot. 

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1½ cups chopped onion
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cups dry pinto beans (presoak, or see notes on adding cook time)
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, with sauce from the can; use more peppers for more punch
  • 2 cups broth or stock
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • ½ cup tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons chili powder (balance with chipotle, depending on spice preferences)
  • 1-2 teaspoons liquid smoke (an essential pantry item on Totem)

Optional ingredients

  • Sugar or other sweetener, if you like sweeter beans
  • Hot sauce, if you like more kick to your beans

Preparation

  1. Heat oil in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker; sauté onion and pepper until onion is soft and translucent.
  2. Add beans, chipotle pepper and broth, then additional water as needed to just cover the beans.
  3. Cook at high pressure for 15 minutes. Erin’s hot tip: skip pre-soaking, and increase cook time to 40 minutes.
  4. Release pressure when time is up. Stir in mustard, tomato paste and seasonings. Heat (sauté function on an Instant Pot) another 10 to 15 minutes to bring flavors together. Taste and adjust as desired.

Bonus: If you do pot-in-pot cooking, a stacked pot can cook cornbread at the same time as the beans. Dinner’s on.

Hard-boiled eggs

These are a great cruising staple, for a few reasons. Keep a few in the fridge for an easy, delicious, healthy snack. Eggs are usually widely available, and they’re an inexpensive option for protein. Whoever brings deviled eggs to sundowners earns everyone’s appreciation.

I never nailed easy-peel hard boiled eggs until I had the Instant Pot to make the cooking dummy-proof. Susan Travers, on the Privilege 445 Motu, shared her go-to reference on cooking times for various levels of doneness. With room-temperature eggs and subtropical-temperature water, I find they take even less time.

Ramen is a big deal for our crew, and two minutes at low pressure makes an ideal “jammy” egg to marinate for topping a bowl of ramen.

One-pot pasta

Cooking in a pressure cooker means you don’t have to boil water (and then juggle the hot pot). This recipe, which teenagers love, uses the pasta’s starch to help thicken the sauce. And the recipe is more of a method, readily adapted to whatever you have on hand. Any kind of meat, veggies and pasta will do.

Preparation

  1. Sauté meat and heartier veggies.
  2. Add pasta, seasoning, broth or water to barely cover the pasta, and the more-tender veggies.
  3. Cook for five minutes at pressure, and then allow to release naturally for five minutes before opening the pot.

Here’s how we interpreted this preparation a few nights ago:

  1. Sauteed three links of sliced Polish sausage; added ½ diced onion and a couple of sliced carrots; cooked to soften, adding some minced garlic partway through.
  2. Added half a 16-ounce bag of pasta, two cups of broth and sliced bell peppers. Stirred, put a 14.5-ounce tin of diced tomatoes over the top, and then a bit of water to cover the pasta.
  3. Cooked as above, and then released pressure and opened the pot to add a bunch of spinach (I add a lot, like pot-height). If you stir it in, it wilts, so there is no need to cook further. 

We passed this dish around with Parmesan to sprinkle. Alternate versions include ham and peas, kale and walnuts, and sundried tomatoes with olives and capers

Baked potatoes

For years, we went without baked potatoes, partly because russets are scarce in the tropics, but mostly because it meant using the oven … or so I thought. Under pressure, potatoes come out perfectly (and quickly, and don’t heat your boat).

Preparation

  1. Puncture scrubbed potatoes all around with a fork.
  2. Place whole potatoes on a trivet. Top with salt and pepper, with water underneath for pressure.
  3. Cook under pressure for 20 minutes, then allow to release naturally.

Loaded potatoes are a great family-pleaser meal. This preparation works with sweet potatoes, too.

Fish curry

Two salty commenters, Jaye Lunsford and Cheri Hanes, brought up fish curry as a favorite. It’s the only dish on this list of favorites we’ve never made, and now I’m wondering why. Seriously, fresh seafood plus coconut? What’s not to love? Cheri, who owned the Endeavour 42, Consort, recommended this favorite from Hip Pressure Cooking, and Jaye, aboard the CSY 33 Cinderella, shared one from a recipe book.

Lazy cabbage rolls

Amy Alton turns impressive meals out of the galley on Starry Horizons, her Fountaine Pajot Helia 44, so I paid attention when she suggested lazy cabbage rolls. “Take any cabbage roll recipe, follow it up to assembling. Throw it in the pressure cooker, add some extra water and then the cabbage on top. Cook for six minutes, and then naturally depressurize. I do it in my stovetop pressure cooker.”

This technique readily adapts to stacking in an Instant Pot. Amy has a circumnavigation under the keels: I trust her recommendations (also, I can’t believe I never thought of making this in a pressure cooker). She sent another recipe that riffs on traditional cabbage rolls by filling them with Asian flavors.  

Creamy chicken pasta

Deanna Landers and family are in the crunch period of projects on their Leopard 46. As they prep Erin Skye for offshore cruising, they are close to cutting the docklines, but can’t use the stove on board yet. We made the family’s Instant Pot favorite, creamy chicken pasta, partly to try it out, and partly to get a food photo. It was delicious. We dug in, polished it off and were rubbing our bellies when I remembered: the photo… 

Bobotie

Drakensburg mountains
Niall Gifford takes in South Africa’s Drakensburg mountains. Behan Gifford

Bobotie is part of Cape Malay cuisine, in which Asian spices meld with South African ingredients. When we were in Langkawi, Malaysia, the kids came home from a sleepover raving about it. We don’t have it often enough, because it requires using the oven, or so I thought. Cindy Smith is a tenured cruiser and Instant Pot pro; this is among her favorites recommended for preparing in a pressure cooker. Instant Pot users can readily adapt this bobotie recipe that Cindy recommended.

Dungeness crab

I might have had some pangs for our home waters of the Salish Sea when Roberta Darrow mentioned that an Instant pot is perfect for steaming fresh crab. “Our small pot fits four halves (two crabs with guts removed). Add ½ cup water, pressure cook for 5 minutes and then quick-release outside on the rear deck.” When we visited last month, crab season wasn’t open yet. I wonder if we can make it back in time this year?

More How To