Instant Pot Russian Chicken is a recipe that hits close to home. Quite literally. Adapted from Recipes from the Heart, a community cookbook from my home congregation and submitted by a family I know and live, Instant Pot Russian Chicken is a homey, sweet, and simple weeknight dish for the harried homemaker. It reflects a type of cuisine which I imagine my high school friends enjoyed for dinner most nights but which, for a variety of reasons, I was largely unfamiliar.
From a culinary perspective my upbringing was a little bit out of the ordinary. I was raised by a single mother in close proximity to extended family. My mother did not (and does not) cook in any traditional sense of the term. We would have tacos and spaghetti and that sort of thing, along with quesadillas and a few bizarro regulars like Minute Rice with canned brown gravy. Even today she feeds my mostly grown children food from a can or a freezer. This absence in the kitchen, strangely, was counterbalanced by an adventuresome palate when dining out. Sure, we had our fair share of fast food, but we were also regulars at a few local Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese restaurants. We enjoyed sushi before it was cool, back when the local news would run scare stories on getting parasites from raw snapper. My mom would also occasionally buy prepared luxury items from the grocery store: crab legs, etc. She didn’t know the first thing about the sides or anything, but she knew what was good in life, even if she couldn’t make it herself.
When I finally started cooking for myself I went for the adventuresome. When working my way through the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbooks I went for the Mulligatawny soups and sweet and sour catfish – not exotic cuisine by any stretch, but a start. I picked up a few good Asian cookbooks, like Madhur Jaffrey’s Taste of the Far East and the Complete Curry Cookbook, and went crazy. I had a pretty good command of some far flung cuisines but had somehow avoided learning to cook very basic American staples.
Fast forward again to a few years later when my second child was born. A neighbor from church graciously brought over a pot of a dish she called “chicken spaghetti”. A few days later I returned her crock pot and enthusiastically thanked her and got a strange look. Apparently “chicken spaghetti” was frozen chicken breast, dried pasta and jarred spaghetti sauce thrown in a slow cooker until the chicken was shreddable. Without minimizing the thoughtful gesture to our family, it was the ultimate low effort meal. But to me it was a revelation. This may have been the sleep deprivation talking, but it also may have been my first exposure to the types of home cooked meals that most of my peers experienced growing up. It was homey and comforting and could probably feed six people for ten or twelve dollars. It was the kind of recipe that young mothers shared amongst themselves – one that my own mother probably could have cooked, if it had occurred to her to try and follow a simple recipe.
Instant Pot Russian Chicken is very much in the spirit of this simple “chicken spaghetti”. It may also have been a well-shared recipe in certain circles – this is one of two “Russian Chicken” recipes from the same church cookbook. It’s primarily a protein-delivery device, providing a hearty amount of inexpensive, lean protein with just enough sweet and savory to make it interesting. The flavors all come pre-packaged and there’s no technique or fuss required to get the desired result. And – like the chicken spaghetti – it’s surprisingly delicious and quite satisfying. Even my hard-to-please oldest admitted it was better than expected, and helped herself to a second serving.
I’ve made a few adjustments, without breaking the ‘spirit’ of the original. I’ve used an Instant Pot instead of a slow cooker – the pressure function is perfect for speeding along what would otherwise be an all day cook. I’ve also added sauteed mushrooms – in part because I had mushrooms to use up, but mostly because they add some much-needed texture to the original. But otherwise the recipe sticks to the basics: Lipton onion soup mix, whole berry cranberry sauce, and Catalina salad dressing. As I write this I wonder if bottled Catalina dressing is peculiar to the American West – if you can’t find it French dressing will do just fine. I’m not sure what’s particularly Russian about any of these ingredients, except that the sauce for the chicken turns out a borscht-like magenta.
Instant Pot Russian Chicken is best served over a spaetlze or hearty egg noodle, topped with a little bit of sour cream and accompanied by a steamed or roasted green vegetable. It is not fancy but it’s filling and satisfying and, even for someone who knows their way around the kitchen, a nice excuse for a night off from cooking.
- Set the Instant Pot to saute. When the pot is hot add the olive oil and mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms have let off their water and are starting to shrink.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the instant pot and stir thoroughly to combine. Cook on low pressure for 25 minutes and allow pressure to release naturally.
- Serve over egg noodles, with sour cream on the side.