An electric pot with a funny name has taken over the kitchen. This wildly popular electric pressure cooker has an enormous fan club, with fervent members who shout the benefits and passionately share recipes.
Yet others are still asking, “What is an Instant Pot, and do I really need one?”
This appliance is so popular that the Instant Pot was the top selling product in America on Amazon Prime Day: On July 12, 2016, 200,000 Instant Pots were sold, more than televisions or other electronics. Publishers Weekly listed an Instant Pot cookbook as one of the top 10 best-selling cookbooks in 2016.
How can one kitchen product be such a hot trend, while so many home cooks haven’t even heard of it? Behold the power of the internet and social media.
The Instant Pot was introduced in 2010, when owners of the Canadian Instant Pot company redesigned the classic electric pressure cooker to perform a variety of functions easily with the touch of a button. Then they gave sample appliances to about 200 food bloggers. It wasn’t advertised on television or in magazines, but the fan base spread.
Electric pressure cookers from Cuisinart, Fagor, Breville and many other companies dotted the booths at the recent International Home and Housewares Show. While the buzz is making converts, cooking under pressure has been known to speed up cooking since the late 1600s. Even electric pressure cookers have been available for about 20 years. Now the design has been improved and features added so today it is a safe, versatile and very trendy cooking method.
In addition to the pressure setting, the Instant Pot touts that you can use it as a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a yogurt maker, a steamer, a warmer and for sautéing. The rice cooking feature is especially embraced, and many enthusiasts say they will never cook rice any other way.
The pot with the funny name is now leader of the pack. It is kind of like Xerox for a photocopier, or Crock-Pot for an electric slow cooker. The Instant Pot, while a registered trademark for a particular brand of electric pressure cooker, is the common name everyone is talking about.
Its popularity proves that social media works, but it also confirms that home cooks still long for great food, provided they can cook it quickly and easily. Suddenly after-work fare can include pot roast, homemade chicken soup, richly flavored beef ragu, or chili made with dried beans. And yes, even risotto, a dish known for its lengthy cooking time and constant stirring, can be made in just minutes and served on the busiest night.
If you are part of the exclusive club, then you already know the ins and outs of this kitchen wonder. If not, let us explain its virtues:
▪ Speed. That’s the big draw. Pressure cookers raise the temperature at which water boils, so the food cooks faster. Author Laurel Randolph, in her best-selling cookbook “The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook” (2016 Rockridge Press), claims the appliance shaves up to 70 percent off the cooking time.
The actual time savings varies with each dish. Cook risotto or steel cut oats in seven minutes, or a pot roast with vegetables in about 1 1/2 hours. Count on a whole chicken in 25 minutes. Make a meaty short rib chili with dried beans that have been soaked overnight in just 30 minutes.
▪ Ease. Sauté the onions or brown the meat in the pot. Add liquid, position the lid and set the timer. Once you are familiar with it, you will think it easy-peasy. Plus, you will have just one pot to wash.
▪ Energy efficiency. Since pressure cookers cook quickly, they use less energy for cooking and they don’t heat up the kitchen on a hot summer day.
▪ Great tasting food. You get to choose real food, with a deep, rich flavor, and can expand your dinner options way beyond a frozen meal or packaged mix. America’s Test Kitchen explains in its book “Pressure Cooker Perfection” (America’s Test Kitchen, 2013) that flavor molecules cannot escape the sealed pot, so the taste is more concentrated.
▪ Versatility. Cook appetizers, desserts and everything in between. Foods that are especially suited to pressure cooking include less tender cuts of meat, beans, stocks, stews, soups, chili, many vegetables, rice and grains. Enjoy a cheesecake, perfectly cooked lentils, hearty chowder, fantastic brown rice and more.
Sure there are a few foods that aren’t suited to pressure cooking. Asparagus and thin fish fillets cook so quickly there is no reason to add pressure to the formula, and milk should be avoided as it may coagulate.
▪ Healthy meals. The sealed pot may prevent the loss of some nutrients. Most importantly, the wide variety of foods, the wonderfully flavored meats, plus the beans, grains and other healthy foods you can cook in the pressure cooker make nourishing dishes just minutes away. You can avoid the high-calorie fried recipes that some once thought were the only quick way to get a meal on the table. And any time you can avoid picking up fast food in a bag, you are taking a big step toward better nutrition.
▪ Safety. Once there was a day when the pressure cooker frightened many cooks away. Those old-fashioned pressure cookers, with steam mounting and a loud, jiggling valve hissing and dancing as the steam escaped, were downright scary. Today’s electric pressure cooker is safe, quiet and foolproof.
Are you ready to join the prestigious club of members who swear by it? Great dinners are just minutes away. Guaranteed.
Kathy Moore and Roxanne Wyss are Kansas City-based professional home economists and small kitchen appliance experts. They met when they worked in the Crock-Pot test kitchen. They also develop recipes for a variety of food industry and editorial clients.
Electric pressure cooker tricks
▪ Read the manual that came with your pressure cooker and become familiar with the operation and parts. But don’t be hard on yourself if you are bewildered at first. The Instant Pot manual is a little confusing — even for many experienced cooks. You may want to buy a cookbook or better yet, join an online group, for they offer support and tested recipes. For example, search for Instant Pot Community on Facebook.
▪ Follow a tested recipe, especially as you start to use your pressure cooker. Cut the food into uniform size so it cooks more evenly. Be sure to use the right amount of liquid. Some liquid is required to build the pressure, but do not overfill the pot. If at the end of the cooking time you find there is too much liquid, leave the cover off and set the pressure cooker to sauté; cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces.
▪ Sauté or brown foods first. Set the electric pressure cooker on the sauté setting and brown the meat, or sauté the onions before building the pressure. It adds flavor and visual appeal.
▪ Allow a little extra prep time. The timer counts down once the unit is at full pressure, and the cover only opens once the pressure has been released. If the recipe says to cook under pressure for 10 minutes, remember to allow time to brown the meat or sauté the vegetables and time to build the pressure. Also allow time to release the pressure — either quickly by pressing the vent open or naturally, allowing the cooker to cool on its own for about 10 to 15 minutes. This means a 10 minute recipe may actually take 20 minutes — but it is still much faster than the stove top or oven alternative.
▪ Follow the instructions on cleaning. Be sure to wash the gasket to minimize odor.
▪ Electric pressure cookers are commonly 6 or 8 quart units, and that is the ideal size for cooking for a family. These cookers are not designed for canning.
Barbecue beef brisket
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 (2 1/2-pound) beef brisket, flat cut preferred, trimmed of excess fat and cut in half
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
⅔ cup reduced sodium beef broth
½ teaspoon liquid smoke
Preheat a 6-quart electric pressure cooker by selecting Sauté. Add the oil.
Season the brisket with salt and pepper. Brown the brisket, in batches, on all sides. Remove the meat and set aside.
Add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until onions are tender. Add the broth and liquid smoke and stir up any browned bits in the bottom of the pot. Add the meat and arrange some of the onions on top of it.
Secure the lid. Set on Manual and cook at high pressure 1½ hours.
Release the pressure naturally 10 minutes. Release any remaining pressure, using the quick release.
Using tongs, remove the meat and let it rest. Drain the liquid and onions into a deep bowl; skim the fat from the surface and reserve the liquid.
If serving now, slice the meat thinly against the grain and arrange the meat on a serving platter. Using a slotted spoon, lift onions from the liquid and arrange them on the meat. Moisten meat lightly with a little reserved liquid, if desired. Drizzle the meat with barbecue sauce.
If refrigerating or freezing for future serving: Arrange sliced meat in a resealable container. Top with onions and pour reserved liquid over the meat to submerge it. Seal and date the container. Refrigerate for up to three or four days, or freeze for up to two or three months. When ready to serve, thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator. Drain most of the liquid, leaving just enough to moisten the meat. Heat meat in the microwave oven until steaming hot. Top with barbecue sauce.
Tip: Season the brisket with ½ teaspoon celery seed before cooking. Add the celery seed along with the salt and pepper.
Homestyle macaroni and cheese
Makes 12 servings
1 (16-ounce) box elbow macaroni, uncooked
4 cups water
3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1½ teaspoons salt
1¼ cups whole milk
1 (8-ounce) package shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 ounces American processed cheese, cut into small cubes
Put macaroni, water, butter and salt in a 6-quart electric pressure cooker.
Secure the lid. Set on Manual and cook at high pressure 4 minutes.
Release the pressure using the quick release. Remove the lid.
Select Sauté. Stir milk into macaroni. Add cheddar and processed cheese and stir constantly until cheese is melted. Turn off pot and serve.
Tip: For Macaroni and cheese with ham, add 2 cups diced, fully cooked ham when adding milk and cheeses.
Homemade chicken stock
Makes about 2 quarts
3 ½ to 4 pounds mixed bone-in chicken parts, such as wings, backs and feet
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 medium ribs celery, chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, optional
2 sprigs flat leaf (Italian) parsley
1 to 2 sprigs fresh thyme, optional
1 bay leaf
Place chicken, vegetables and herbs in a 6-quart electric pressure cooker. Pour 7 cups water over all. The water should just cover the chicken and vegetables, but be sure not to exceed the cooker’s max fill line.
Secure the lid. Set on Manual and cook at high pressure 45 minutes.
Release the pressure naturally. (Allow plenty of time; do not use quick release.)
Skim fat from stock, then strain the stock. Discard vegetables and herbs. Refrigerate stock and use within 2 to 3 days, or freeze for use within 6 months.
Freeze the prepared stock in measured portions that are ready to use. One convenient way is to fill wells in a muffin pan with ½ cup portions. Once frozen, slide the frozen cubes out and seal them tightly in a freezer bag. Smaller amounts can be frozen in ice cube trays while larger amounts can be frozen in sealable plastic containers. Be sure to label and date.
This stock has not been seasoned with salt and pepper so it is versatile for any recipe and is ideal for freezing. Season to taste when using the stock.
Recipe adapted from www.seriouseats.com.
Makes 6 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup (1-inch) pieces thin asparagus
2 shallots, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
Salt and pepper, to taste
1½ cups uncooked Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
1 (32-ounce) carton reduced-sodium chicken broth
⅔ cup frozen petite peas, thawed and drained
¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or Italian (flat leaf) parsley
Set on Sauté. Put oil and butter in a 6-quart electric pressure cooker and melt butter. Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, 3 minutes or until asparagus is crisp tender. Using a slotted spoon, lift asparagus out and put into a bowl. Set aside until rice is finished cooking.
Add shallots and carrot to the pressure cooker and cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in garlic. Stir in mushrooms, and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are golden and liquid evaporates. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in rice and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Stir in wine and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until liquid evaporates. Stir in broth.
Secure the lid. Set on Manual and cook at high pressure 7 minutes.
Release the pressure using the quick release. Remove the lid.
Stir in peas, asparagus, Parmesan and basil. Allow to stand 1 to 2 minutes before serving.