I’m not quite sure when I first heard the rumblings about the Instant Pot, but a few months ago I read an article discussing this latest phenomenon, acknowledging that while this latest kitchen trend does come with somewhat of a learning curve, it was definitely time well spent.
My first thought?
Oh brother. An appliance that takes up valuable kitchen space and requires studying on my part? Thanks, but no thanks. I am going to pass on this one.
And for the next few months, I didn’t give the Instant Pot another thought until I got an email asking me to write about this wondrous new appliance that is so popular it is frequently out of stock and has Facebook followings that number well over the one million mark.
Alrighty, then, I told myself. It’s time to enroll myself in Instant Pot 101.
The first thing I learned about this new kitchen must-have was that, surprise, surprise, I actually already had one in my house, albeit not one made by the Instant Pot company. My 17-year-old daughter has been developing recipes for the Chefman appliance company for the past several months and they had sent her their own version of the pot not that long ago. When I first looked at it, it struck me as an updated pressure cooker, one of my mother’s favorite kitchen items which was great when she made chicken soup, less so when she attempted split pea (unless you don’t mind cleaning green glop off the ceiling after the pressure valve shoots off, spraying soup everywhere.) Essentially the pot was an electric multi-cooker that could function as a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, a steamer, a sauté pan, a rice cooker, a yogurt maker plus a few other things. It was pretty impressive and my daughter churned out recipes for creamy coconut salmon in 25 minutes, a meaty root vegetable soup in 38 minutes and a deceptively easy, no-stir Asian risotto bowl in just 19.
For those of you who have never cooked in a pressure cooker, it helps to back up a little and understand why they work as well as they do. Sealed super-tight by a rubber gasket in the lid and topped with a regulator valve, pressure cookers use a combination of steam and high pressure to cook food in a fraction of the time normally required. They can create magic in items that do well in long, low moist heat, like chili, pot roast, beans, rice and soup (though not thick starchy ones like split pea, as mentioned above).
Much like so many other items that have evolved by leaps and bounds over the last decade or two or three, today’s pressure cookers work far better than their predecessors with improved safety features. Multi-cookers take things one step further, moving the pot from the stove to the countertop, going electronic with an entire menu of items that can be made with the single push of a pre-programmed button, while manual modes allow for flexible cooking times.
But it is important to understand a few things about multi-cookers. While in almost all cases they cook much faster than conventional methods, the crazy short cooking times you hear casually tossed around are a little misleading, since they don’t include the amount of time it takes for the pot to come to full pressure and then to depressurize after the cooking has completed so that you can open the lid safely, without having the pot’s contents exploding all over the kitchen.
I decided to test out my daughter’s pot with a batch of chicken soup, a process that according to the manual takes 16 minutes of cooking time. While that number may be accurate, the total amount of time it actually took to make five quarts of soup using cold ingredients was closer to 75 minutes once you factored in the time to build and release the pot’s pressure, although I could have shaved off a nice chunk of time by preheating the pot while I got my veggies peeled and venting the pressure valve once the actual cooking time had ended. Even so, while 75 minutes may be a lot longer than the 16 minute number printed in my instruction manual, it was still significantly shorter than the three or four hours I usually spend cooking chicken soup which, by the way, came out really, really good.
There are a few other realities that need to be mentioned about multi-cookers. With food being such a centerpiece of our existence and our larger than average families, buying a multi-cooker does not mean that you can free up cabinet space by throwing out all of your other pots and pans. Most of us do way more cooking than that and while a multi-cooker can be an asset in the kitchen, it is more than likely going to take up, not free up, cabinet space. Finally, my last gripe with all of the brouhaha being made about multi-cookers – don’t insult my intelligence by touting its benefits as a sauté pan. By the definition being used here for sauté pan, any pot without a lid qualifies, even my mom’s vintage pressure cooker.
Having clarified those few issues, we can safely move on to the benefits of multi-cookers. If you have room for one and have realistic expectations about timing, these pots can be a great asset to any kitchen. Who wouldn’t love the versatility of being able to cook up some golden brown onions, sear a pot roast in the same pot and then seal the whole thing up and cook it up to tender perfection in not much more than an hour? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that multi-cookers are only good for quick cooking foods that usually require longer time on the fire. They do a lightning fast job on a variety of foods including corn on the cob (less than five minutes), rice (about ten minutes), whole roasted chicken (25 minutes) and applesauce (approximately five minutes) and, yes, yeastless cinnamon buns (just over 20 minutes.)
Not all of you remember life before microwave ovens popped up in every kitchen, but I do. In those early days, it took time to become acclimated to the new technology, and eventually, we stocked up on microwave safe cookware as we figured out cooking times and learned which foods were best made in the microwave and which did better in conventional ovens. When, more recently, sous vides became the latest darling of the kitchen set, once again, many of us buckled down, did our homework and googled away, learning how to take advantage of yet another cooking technique in our own kitchens with amazingly good results. And on deck now are multi-cookers, enjoying their moment in the spotlight and winning legions of new fans every week who have fallen in love with their ability to cook at warp speed, elevating their pots to that coveted hey-how-did-I-ever-live-without-this category.
Me? I haven’t quite jumped on the multi-cooker bandwagon yet, but I can see the allure. Is there enough room in my kitchen to bring my daughter’s pot upstairs from the basement, where it is currently stashed? Hmm. Let me go check and see…
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Instant Pot Rice Beef Plov
2 ½ cups wild rice rinsed and drained*
1 lb. beef chuck or beef stew meat, cut into 3/4″ pieces
4 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp margarine
1 large onion, diced
3 large carrots, thickly julienned
3 cups very warm water
1 tbsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground paprika
½ tsp ground coriander
1 whole head of garlic, unpeeled, cut in half crosswise.
Rinse and drain rice and set aside. Set Instant pot to sauté on high heat (push sauté twice to switch to high heat) and add olive oil. Once oil is hot (but not smoking), add beef in a single layer and sauté until lightly browned (5 min), stirring occasionally.
Add margarine and chopped onion and stir 3 minutes until softened.
Add julienned carrots along with all seasonings and sauté 5 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.
Spread rice evenly over the top (do not stir). Push garlic halves cut-side-down, halfway into the rice. Pour very warm (or hot) water directly over the garlic cloves so you don’t disturb the rice. Use the back of a wooden spoon to poke 5-7 holes through the rice to the bottom of the pot (this helps disburse flavor).
Cover and cook on high-pressure 30 min (I used the “Multigrain” setting). Let instant pot rest and naturally depressurize 10 min before switching to the venting position to release steam. Make sure the steam is fully released and the pressure valve has floated down before opening the pot.
Remove garlic and set aside. Stir rice well to combine ingredients. Squeeze the garlic cloves back into the pot (optional).
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Beef Root Vegetable Soup
(recipe courtesy of Chefman and @facefuloffood on Instagram)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
12 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
¾ lb. beef stew meat, fat trimmed and diced
8 large sprigs dill
2 bay leaves
2 ½ teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
¼ tsp black pepper
Pour the olive oil in the inner pot of the pressure cooker and press the sauté button. Press the + button until the display reads 8. Press start.
Once the oil is hot, add the onion and sauté 8 minutes, stirring frequently.
When the onion is done, place all the remaining ingredients into the pressure cooker along with 6 cups of water.
Close the pressure cooker, making sure the lid is locked and that the pressure valve is set to airtight. Select the high pressure setting and press the + button to get to the number 20. Press start.
Once the time is up, carefully remove steam and open lid.
Taste for seasoning, remove bay leaves and dill, and serve.