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Building Block Meal Prep Chicken for Instant Pot

I’m terrible at naming recipes – this one is generically known as Saucy Chicken in my house – but this does what it says: makes a chicken base that’s ready to have a sauce built or added from packaged sauces and/or add-ins.

We’ll talk more soon about what you can do with this and how to build a sauce, also how to stretch it, add vegetables, and increase flavor.  But if you want to make it tomorrow, follow the recipe and then add a jar of premade alfredo or tikka masala or queso or salsa, can of enchilada sauce or condensed soup, pouch sauce (I really love Frontera Grill’s pouch sauces, the Carnitas sauce is great on chicken), BBQ sauce, or other “simmer sauce” you might find at the store.

The very high heat of pressure cooking is rough on nuanced flavors, and that’s why I stick to basic aromatics for the pressure portion of the process.  If I am aiming for decent spiciness, I might chop a fresh pepper or add red pepper flakes before sealing, but for the most part I make my real flavors happen AFTER the pot is vented.  There’ll be an entry about that soon.

Yes, this recipe is for dark meat chicken, which tolerates pressure cooking (and microwave reheating, as this is a major staple in my meal prep routine).  It is not good with chicken breast; we’ll talk about that in another entry.  Several of my grocery stores sell packages of boneless, skinless chicken leg quarters and that is what I normally use, but boneless skinless thighs will work.  I do not bother cutting my pieces up – in the end they will break up on their own into just about the right size for packing up and eating with just a fork or spoon, no knife necessary, but you can cut thighs in half or leg quarters into thirds or fourths if you really want to.

Fresh or frozen is fine. In pressure cooking, frozen meat will take longer to come to pressure but should be set for the same amount of cook time.

Building Block Meal Prep Chicken for Instant Pot

Tender, juicy dark meat chicken with a sauce base, ready to be dressed up and packed for lunches or dinners to be reheated later without turning tough or chewy.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time55 minutes
Course: Building Block, Main Course, Meal Prep
Keyword: chicken, Instant Pot, Keto, Pressure Cooker
Servings: 5 meals
Author: Lyn
Cost: $10


  • Pressure Cooker
  • Large bowl
  • Flat-edged spatula
  • Knife
  • Large slotted spoon, strainer scoop, or colander
  • Large mixing bowl


  • 3 pounds boneless skinless leg quarters or thighs Up to 5 pounds for a 6qt pressure cooker
  • 1 onion chunked and/or diced
  • 3 cloves garlic whole, smashed, or minced
  • salt, pepper, crushed red pepper to preference
  • 2 T fairly high smoke point oil (Olive, Avocado, Coconut, Peanut, etc)
  • 1 14oz can tomatoes, drained with liquid reserved any kind - diced, strips, whole, fire roasted or not, seasoned or not


  • Set the pressure cooker to Saute mode, normal level. Cut onion into chunks and/or dice while pot heats - the smaller the cut, the more the onion will disintegrate in the final sauce, so leave some larger pieces if you want somewhat recognizable onion pieces in the final product.
  • When pressure cooker is hot, add oil and onions, stirring to coat and evenly distribute. How long you want to cook the onions is up to you. Browning them slightly will add a little bit of flavor, but I usually just get them warmed and well-coated in oil and move on.
  • Turn the heat off on the pressure cooker and add garlic, stirring for 30-60 seconds to make sure garlic doesn't burn.
  • When sizzling stops, add the drained tomato liquid.
  • Add chicken in as even layers as you can, seasoning each layer. Usually I can do 3 pounds of chicken in about a layer and a half, two or three layers for 5ish pounds.
  • Pour the canned tomatoes over the top of the chicken.
  • Close lid and seal for pressure cooking.
  • Set to cook on High pressure for 12 minutes.
  • Walk away, for anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. At the very least, let the pressure cooker naturally release (takes about 20 minutes after cooking completes), but I find the chicken is better if it rests quite some time after that.
  • When you are ready to continue, remove the chicken and as much remaining solids as you can with a slotted spoon or strainer scoop to a large, stable, heat-safe bowl. No need to be completist, just pull out any chunks of chicken, onion, or tomato that they might burn during reduction.
  • Fast option: drain off most of the liquid to a your chicken bowl. Add your sauce components to the pot and warm through on low Saute, return chicken to the pot and stir to cover and warm.
    Slow option: Set the pressure cooker to Saute mode, and if your pressure cooker has saute levels choose High. Boil the remaining liquid in the pot down until it is reduced 50-70%. This could take up to 30 minutes depending on the pressure cooker and amount of moisture, and while you do not have to stand over it you should check it every 5 minutes starting at the 15-minute mark. Turn the heat off or set to a low saute when it has reduced sufficiently.
  • If desired, you could add vegetables to the reducing sauce to cook in it without being pressure-cooked. This requires a little timing guesswork as to when to add them to get them to the doneness you want when the sauce is reduced enough, but it would spare you having to steam/nuke/roast those vegetables separately.
  • When you've reduced the cooking liquids, you can remove and store everything to be mixed with sauce later, shred into taco meat/BBQ, or add sauce components and stir to combine and warm through.


At the end of this recipe is where the highly-variable magic happens: This is where you build a sauce, using the rich reduced cooking liquid as a base. This could be anything from jar/pouch/can sauce to a from-scratch sauce; we'll talk a lot more about this in another entry.