A Culinary Skeptic Test-Drives the Instant Pot
More than just a modern-day pressure cooker, this appliance deserves real estate on your counter.
In my kitchen, the stove is my best friend. I stand in front of it for much of the day, watching the transformation of ingredients, recording my observations in recipes. My husband often returns from work and jokes, “There you are, exactly where I left you this morning.”
So, I was hesitant when Cooking Light’s editor-in-chief suggested I try the Instant Pot. I’m a cook who thrives on basic appliances. Counter space is valuable real estate, too; our $30 microwave is in the garage.
But the IP is not just a kitchen appliance. It’s a phenomenon. It’s a $100 machine that promises to turn kitchen drudgery into culinary joy. Fervent Facebook communities and blog posts discuss its merits and hacks. Dedicated cookbooks have sprung up like mushrooms to capture the mania.
Despite its various functions, the IP is basically a pressure cooker. Never used one, or scared of them? My mom’s exploded in the 1970s. Fortunately, modern cookers are safer and easier to operate.
The tight lid and gasket trap in steam, making molecules move faster and hotter to quickly cook and extract flavors. Sure, my simple stovetop pressure cooker, with its steady “shoosh-shoosh” venting, can seem manic, but it has upped my cooking game. I can produce terrific pho, beans, and beets in 65% less time than normal. Curious, I test-drove the Instant Pot 6-quart Duo.
Other than beeps that signal operation, the IP is eerily silent and efficient. There is no venting during cooking, which makes me miss the smell of food being cooked.
An appliance for modern lifestyles, the IP encourages you to tinker and multitask while you use it (it maintains consistent pressure and keeps food warm for hours!). I was emboldened to cook while practicing yoga, meditating, even sleeping.
My near-spills and thrills kept me nimble. Brown jasmine rice cooked on “Multi-grain” was borderline mushy; I added water and a frozen chicken carcass and pressed “Porridge” to transform a disaster into dinner. “Beans/Chili” turned heirloom Ayocote Blanco into an overcooked mess, to which I added kale, tomato, and herbs to create soup. After seven hours on “Slow Cook,” green beans weren’t as tender as expected, so I finished the deed with low pressure for three minutes. Complete wins included jiggly soft-boiled eggs cooked via “Steam.” The “Rice” function yielded perfect grains after fluffing and resting for 10 minutes. Dreamy homemade yogurt was at my fingertips.
Gathering intel, I reached out to IP superusers. It can ruin delicate seafood, said Coco Morante, author of The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook. To safely deal with the pressure release valve, Michelle Tam of nomnompaleo.com uses her left hand to turn its handle and release steam; her hand and arm are out of harm’s way.
One weekend, I made eight things in the machine. “You’re like Captain Jean-Luc Picard wanting ‘tea, Earl Grey, hot,’ ” my husband said. “I’m an Instant Pot widower.” Once averse to programmable cooking gadgets, I am now obsessed with pushing IP buttons and experimenting.
Why Buy The Instant Pot?
The Instant Pot, like most appliances, isn’t perfect, but it’s well-priced and good for people with little time (set it and forget it). Plus, it’s fun—tinker with it and be part of an online tribe (many call themselves “Potheads”). It’s a 21st-century cooking experience.
(Buy the Instant Pot here.)