May 7, 2017

What everyone should know about the Instant Pot

“I will not pretend I wasn't petrified. I was. But mixed in with the awful fear was a glorious feeling of excitement. Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death. They wouldn't be exciting if they didn't.” 
Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl

This quote sums up how I've felt about pressure cookers pretty much my whole life. On the one hand, they're so cool! You can make bone broth in an hour instead of a whole day. Your meat will always come out tender and juicy. And vegetables will retain more nutrients because they'll cook in less time! On the other hand, I still have memories of the frightfully disturbing hissing sounds that my mother's old aluminum pressure cooker would make, and how she warned me to stay away from it (an order I was happy to follow). My mom always used to break out the pressure cooker to make oxtail, so I always associate pressure cookers with one of my favorite meals: oxtail stew. 

I have always toyed with the idea of getting a pressure cooker—and you might find this odd, but for me, it symbolizes a step toward "real" adulthood (along with other rites of passage/luxuries like owning a washing machine and dryer). So when I realized there was such a thing as an "electric pressure cooker" that included buttons and promised to be dummy-proof, I experienced that "glorious feeling of excitement" that Danny is talking about up there.

But living in New York, you can't buy an appliance that does just one thing. No, in order to justify the kitchen counter real estate, you have to make sure that it serves at least two purposes. The Vitamix makes smoothies and soup. That pot on the stove makes hot water for tea (who has room for a teapot?), and boils water for pasta. Even my Snoopy stuff has to serve a purpose to warrant space on my desk.

This Snoopy isn't just easy on the eyes -- it's also a glasses holder!


So when I found out about the Instant Pot, I was intrigued. I finally made the leap after we threw out the rice cooker in the process of moving. Now that I've made the leap to pressure cooking, I feel it's important for other people to know a few things. tldr: Don't expect too much. It's just an appliance. And you'll probably just use it for soups and stews at first, until you get more comfortable with experimenting. 

If you're thinking about buying an Instant Pot, here are a few considerations/caveats that you should keep in mind:

1. You'll need to do some research/experiment to find good recipes. This was the most surprising (and disappointing) thing I've realized. You might be disappointed with the selection of Instant Pot recipes available online. So you can't just search for Instant Pot recipes (you'll get a limited variety of recipes). You need to widen your search to include "pressure cooker recipes" and/or look up the Instant Pot cook times for common ingredients like "chicken breast" to convert stovetop recipes into pressure cooker recipes. For example, I determined the cooking time for this recipe by looking at my Instant Pot recipe booklet's recommended cooking time for chicken breast (10-12 minutes).

2. It's kind of a pain to clean. The good thing is you can brown/saute stuff in the pot before stewing it, so that saves you from having to dirty another pan. However, you still have to remove and wash the "sealing ring" separately from the lid, which is kind of annoying. Then you'll have to stick the sealing ring back into the lid after everything has dried. Also, if you want to make desserts in your Instant Pot, you should buy another sealing ring because the ring tends to absorb cooking smells even after you wash it.

3. It's not that "instant." The cooking times doesn't usually include the time it takes to come to pressure. So if you see 30-min cooking time for brown rice, you should budget about 1 hour as a conservative estimate of total "in-pot" time.

4. It's big. This one's kind of obvious, but it's worth a mention: Be prepared to sacrifice counter space. Especially if you want to get the 8-qt. version like I did.

5. Hang on to your rice cooker (if you have one). If you want to use it as a rice cooker as well as the cooking vessel for your main dish, you'll need to plan ahead (cook the rice, then let it cool & store it before moving on to making your main dish). Otherwise, you'll probably still need to hang onto your dedicated rice cooker, if you have one. Since I don't have one, I have to experiment a little more with making dishes that allow me to combine rice with the main dish (like the filling of a zongzi...mmm).

To help out with #1, I will try to post whatever Instant Pot recipes I can in the future. 

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