Why do cooks love the Instant Pot?
People have fallen in love with their Instant Pots.
They may like their blenders, cherish their slow cookers and need their food processors.
But the Instant Pot — a device that combines an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker and yogurt maker in one handy unit — sends even mild-mannered cooks into fits of passion.
You find the “L” word over and over in the 15,000 or so product reviews on Amazon. And if you click over to Instant Pot’s Facebook community page, you’ll find more than 360,000 members sharing their undying affection alongside their recipes for chili. (A typical post: “I’m having an affair. My husband said he wished he would have never given me the Instant Pot for Christmas.”)
If you’re a cook and got through last year without bumping into people who couldn’t stop talking about their Instant Pots — or any of the other multi-functional electric pressure cookers on the market (Breville and Cuisinart both make versions) — then you won’t have to wait much longer.
So why do electric pressure cookers inspire such a devoted following? I bought one to find out. A confession: I already own a stovetop pressure cooker, the conventional kind that you would heat over a burner and then regulate yourself. It is currently supporting a colony of dust bunnies in the back of my highest cabinet, behind the panini press. I never got over my fear of exploding split-pea soup to use it with any regularity.
What makes this newest generation of electric pressure cookers different is that it is designed with a slew of self-regulating safety features, including sensors to monitor the unit’s temperature and amount of pressure. All you do is plug it in and tap a button, and it does everything else.
It’s as user-friendly as a slow cooker — except that it gets dinner on the table a day or so faster.
The promise of a fast, fresh homemade meal is a pressure cooker’s greatest appeal, said Lorna Sass, author of four pioneering cookbooks on pressure cooking, including “Pressure Perfect.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Paleo or vegan or just trying to eat better, pressure cooking is the answer for healthy fast food,” Sass said.
After cooking a pork shoulder in the electric pressure cooker, I could easily see why the appliance has struck a chord, with the Paleo community in particular: it cooks large hunks of meat superbly and speedily. After a mere 90 minutes, the meat was spoon tender and deeply flavoured, even before I covered the soft shreds with spicy barbecue sauce. The same recipe made in my slow cooker took seven hours, and the meat wasn’t quite as uniformly juicy.
It was that pork shoulder that turned me into a believer.
But the electric pressure cooker does have its shortcomings. The most notable failure in the meat category was the whole chicken. The recipes I tested came out with slack and soggy skin, and either stringy and dry white meat or undercooked dark meat.
The key to pressure cooker happiness is choosing recipes in which softness and succulence is the goal, and which traditionally take hours to get there.
I’ll never go back to a Dutch oven for chili.
I made the chili in the electric pressure cooker in an hour starting from dried beans.
Same goes for my favourite red lentil soup. Although I didn’t save any time when I tested it, I adored the convenience of not having to watch a pot on the stove. I could turn the pressure cooker on, then go for a run. When I got home, my soup was ready — a good thing since I was starving. And it’s amazing for chickpeas, which take an hour all told instead of the usual three to four hours for unsoaked beans.
But perhaps the biggest pressure cooker joy I found was for something as simple as hard-cooked eggs. They didn’t cook faster, but even fresh eggs from the farmers’ market peeled effortlessly, without ending up pockmarked and riddled with craters the way they do when I boil them in a pot. This is because the pressure helps inflate the air pocket between the cooked white and the shell, which makes separating the two go more smoothly.
Pressure Cooker Spicy Pork Shoulder MAKES 10 SERVINGS
For the pork:
5 garlic cloves, grated on a Microplane or minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
1 tbsp Korean chili flakes (gochugaru)
or other chili flakes (Maras, Aleppo or crushed red pepper)
1 tbsp kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into two or three pieces
For the sauce:
1 tbsp peanut oil
4 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger root
1/3 cup gochujang (Korean chili
paste) or other chili paste or sauce such as sriracha
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp Asian fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
For the sesame pickled cucumbers:
6 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1½ tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp brown sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 tsp sesame seeds
Cooked rice or toasted slider rolls
Total time: three hours, plus marinating
1. To prepare pork, combine garlic, honey, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Rub marinade all over pork. If you have time, cover and refrigerate for one hour to up to 24 hours. Otherwise, proceed with recipe.
2. Set electric pressure cooker or slow cooker to sauté (or use a large skillet). Add pork in batches and sear until browned all over, about two minutes per side. Add ¾ cup water to pot (or to skillet to deglaze, then move to pot), cover, and set to cook for 90 minutes on high pressure or five to seven hours on high in a slow cooker.
3. While pork cooks, prepare sauce: In a small pot, warm peanut oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger, and sauté until fragrant, one to two minutes. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, one to two minutes. Set sauce aside. (It can be made up to one week ahead and stored in the refrigerator.)
4. If using a pressure cooker, manually release steam. Let pork cool until you can handle it, then shred it into bite-size pieces. Pork can be made to this point up to three days ahead.
5. While pork cools, strain liquid from bottom of pot. Pour off fat (or chill liquid, then scoop off solidified fat with a spoon). Reserve.
6. Prepare cucumbers: In a small bowl, combine all ingredients except sesame seeds, and let sit, tossing one or twice, for at least 20 minutes. Stir in sesame seeds.
7. When ready to serve, heat broiler. Toss pork with sauce and 1 to 2 tablespoons cooking liquid — just enough so pork is evenly coated but not wet or runny. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet, and broil until crisped on top, two to three minutes; it will char in places, and that’s fine.
8. Serve pork over rice or on slider rolls, with cucumbers and kimchee, if desired.
Pots de creme, made using an electric pressure cooker. The Instant Pot — a device that combines an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker and yogurt maker in one handy unit — is drawing undying affection from home cooks.
Shredded pork sliders, above, with gochujang barbecue sauce, and chili-braised beef short ribs made using an electric pressure cooker.