Why do cooks love the In­stant Pot?

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - MELISSA CLARK

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

For serv­ing:

Cooked rice or toasted slider rolls

Kim­chee (op­tional)

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.

PHO­TOS BY AN­DREW SCRIVANI, NYT KARSTEN MO­RAN, NYT

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.

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