I really hope all 47 people that don’t own one of these reads this article;
I could use the views.
Oh! You’re one? Welcome.
Come on in, and learn about the marvelous instant pot.
First, let’s get this whole instant thing out of the way. It amazes me that this device has become so popular with such a misleading name. Open a jar of peanut butter (smooth, not crunchy, if you don’t mind). That’s instant. Microwave popcorn; that’s pretty instant.
You aren’t going to do anything in this instantly. About the quickest thing possible would take fifteen minutes, and I don’t think anyone would call that instant. The actual cooking time is probably faster than usual, but there are processes before and after, that uses more time than the actual cooking.
Second, there are things I’m not going to talk about here that you can find elsewhere:
- Making yogurt in the instant pot — Opening a yogurt container is pretty damn fast.
- Baking bread in the instant pot — I don’t hunt moose, I don’t chop wood, and I don’t bake bread.
- Washing your dog in the instant pot — Just wanted to see if I’d lost you yet.
So, that’s a lot of hooey about what it’s not; but what is an instant pot?
Despite all the buttons, an instant pot is basically three things:
- A pressure cooker — This above all else
- A slow cooker — Not sure how they got away with an instant slow cooker
- A rice cooker — And a very good one
You can also steam, boil, sauté, etc., but why would you?
But mostly, it’s a pressure cooker. No matter what function you choose, unless you are using it to saute before cooking, the lid is locked and pressure is building; it’s a pressure cooker.
But my grandmother already gave me her pressure cooker.
No, that’s a bomb waiting to explode. You cook it too hot or too long, it explodes. You try to take the lid off before the pressure’s released, your head explodes when the lid shoots through it on the way to the ceiling.
The Instant Pot is a kinder, gentler pressure cooker. First, the heat is controlled. If you try to cook too hot, too long, or without enough liquid, you get a burn notice, and it turns itself off.
When you’re burned, you’ve got nothing. No cash, no credit, no job history. You’re stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in. ~Michael Weston — Burn Notice
If you let it run beyond the prescribed time, it goes into Keep Warm mode and waits on you to get good and ready, up to 16 hours.
Try to take the lid off before the pressure’s released? Can’t do it. Not without a hammer and crowbar.
What are all those buttons for, anyway?
With a couple of exceptions, they are all for doing the same thing in slightly different ways. On each one, the amount of cooking time may vary, and the temperature (Less, Normal, or More, whatever that means) may be different. But if you want to cook beef with the poultry setting or rice with the soup setting, go for it. You can change the time or temperature for any setting.
Before we get into specific uses and recipes, here is how it works in general.
- Put in the ingredients; always with some liquid
- Lock the lid
- Press one of the buttons
- The pressure builds
- It cooks for the designated time
- Pressure is released
- You eat
Number #4 and #6 is why the instant label is a little misleading. These can take as long as #5. Because I like to let the pressure release on its own (more on this in a bit), I typically triple the cooking time to get the actual cooking time. That’s a little long but is a good rule of thumb.
There are two methods for releasing pressure, quick-release (QR), or natural pressure release (NPR, or NR). For QR, you open the valve and let the steam dissipate. When I do this, I throw a towel over the lid to keep the steam from going everywhere, but that’s just me. NPR means you wait until the pressure reduces naturally, at which point the pressure indicator button pops back down. This little button makes a lot of noise when it drops, and I can usually hear it from anywhere in the house. As soon as the timer runs out, the Instant Pot changes to Keep Warm mode, so there is no hurry to get back to it. In either case, you won’t be able to unlock the lid until that button drops.
Some recipes prefer one or the other method, and some say either is fine. Unless NPR is going to ruin the food, I always opt for that. It’s less messy, and even the quick-release isn’t that quick.
So, let’s cook something!
The first thing the manual (You read the manual right? Me neither), teaches you to do with the Instant Pot is to boil water. I’m going to go out on a limb and declare this a waste of time and water, so let’s jump right into actually cooking some food. The boiling water thing is a good test however, so let’s boil some eggs.
We’ll start with just two eggs. No point wasting a lot of food if you screw this up. But here’s a thing about the Instant Pot. As long as all the ingredients fit in below the Max Fill line, (and I regularly exceed that with no problems), it doesn’t matter how many things you cook. One egg or a dozen will take the same amount of cooking time. The pressurizing phase may be a minute or two longer, but that’s it.
For the eggs, you can optionally use the trivet that came with the pot. This will keep the eggs out of the water, so you are actually steaming them rather than boiling them. Add the two eggs and a cup of water. Close and lock the lid. The thing won’t even work without the top locked, another safety feature. Press the Pressure Cook or Manual button (different models label it differently), set the timer for 5 minutes, and wait for the bell to ring. For this recipe, you will use the quick-release method.
One thing I like about the instant pot isn’t so much the speed but the fact that it’s hands-off cooking. My favorite recipes are those I call dump and run. You put everything in, set the time, come back at some point after the pressure drops, and you’re done.
Something I do every day is cook my morning oatmeal, but I prepare it the night before. I put in the water and oats, stir it, then lock the lid. I use the porridge button, which I’ve got programmed for 10 minutes. Then I set the delay timer to start cooking in the morning. From upstairs, I hear the beeper go off saying it’s ready, then about 15 minutes later, I can hear the pressure indicator drop. At any point after that, the oatmeal is ready.
If you don’t have an Instant Pot, I highly recommend them. I’ve never used one as a slow cooker since, in my mind, the pressure cooker achieves the same goal. Pot roasts and stews come out tender and delicious. Just keep in mind that it’s not instant. You will see recipes that say, chicken whatever in 10 minutes. They have completely ignored the time it takes to raise the pressure, as well as the time to release the pressure.
I thought I’d end the piece with my favorite recipe, Chicken and Rice. You can substitute just about any ingredient except that chicken or rice. Then, you’d have to call it something else.
1 lb cooked chicken, shredded
1 cup brown rice
1 stalk broccoli, chopped
1.25 cups chicken stock
1 can black beans
1 cup sliced carrots
Spices to taste
This is a dump and run recipe, with one caveat. Add all ingredients and give it a stir. You don’t want the trivet in this. Set the timer for 25 minutes. Use NPR, which will take about 20 minutes so that total cooking time will be about an hour.
If you like your broccoli crisp, don’t add it in until after you have opened the lid. Stir it in well, put the top back on, unlocked, and leave it on Keep Warm for about another 15 minutes.