When random friends and co-workers come up to me and want to talk about a story I’m working on, I know I’ve landed on a good one. So it’s been for the past two weeks as I’ve been cooking in my own kitchen and posting on social media about the phenomenon that is the Instant Pot.
I first heard of the Instant Pot, as we do these days, on Pinterest. I passed, figuring I didn’t need another electronic cooking gadget when I already have a perfectly wonderful counter-top oven and a gas range.
Oh, how wrong I was.
If you’ve been living an Instant Pot-free existence until now, here’s the skinny: The Instant Pot is a “multi-cooker” that has functions for cooking soup, rice, grains and porridge; steaming vegetables or other foods; making yogurt; cooking beans and chili; braising meat; simmering; slow cooking; sautéing; and warming. It looks like a pressure cooker but has a digital panel on its front with a number of buttons indicating its different settings.
Cookbook authors are releasing a slew of new books this fall, some focused on slow cooking more generally and some with “Instant Pot” right on the cover. As I flipped through the books, I had one question: How well can one device actually cook such a diverse lineup of foods? I also wanted to know if it’s worth both the money and the precious counter space it commands.
I started by interviewing Daniel Shumski, whose book “How to Instant Pot” hits shelves this month. Before he wrote his book, he’d been happily cooking at home with his own Instant Pot for about six months.
“I thought, ‘You know, this needs a good cookbook to go with it,’ ” he said. “It’s not the sort of thing where you look at (an Instant Pot) and know how it works. It’s not always intuitive.”
I agree. My Instant Pot, the Duo Mini, intimidated me when I took it out of the box, with its heavy lid and slew of buttons front and center. Shumski’s book breaks down the pot by function, and each chapter is devoted to one. His recipes tell home cooks which buttons to press and how the pot reacts — invaluable advice, it turns out, for nervous cooks or Instant Pot newbies.
The yogurt function on my Instant Pot was the one I most wanted to try, so I started there. I looked at the tons of recipes I found online, and eventually settled on one I found in “The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook,” one of the new books out this fall that I had on my desk. Because I have the smaller, 3-quart pot, I had to modify the recipe slightly, pouring a half gallon of whole milk into the cooker, working on the lid and pressing the “yogurt” button, and toggling the machine so the display screen read “boil.” About a half hour later, I pulled the inner pot out of the cooker, cooled the milk to 115 degrees (the slowest part of the process) and stirred in a spoonful of Fage plain yogurt with active cultures. By then, it was around 8 p.m., so I set the pot again on yogurt and pushed the timer to 24 hours. The next morning, I had thin yogurt, which I strained into thick Greek yogurt that’s some of the best I’ve ever had, tangy and smooth, with an excellent consistency. It sounds harder on paper than it was in reality, I can assure you.
Shumski is long past the learning curve of a new Instant Pot owner like me, so I asked him for some tips. For instance, if I have a favorite slow cooker recipe, can I translate it exactly to the Instant Pot?
For the most part, Shumski said yes.
“All slow cookers have quirks and temperature differences,” he said. “But I think if you have a slow cooker recipe, and you want to make it in the Instant Pot, you can use the pot’s slow cooker function and carry it over with no modifications.”
What about the other “multi-cookers” on the market? Are they all the same?
In his book, Shumski said he stuck to the name-brand Instant Pot for the sake of continuity.
“I bet you could use the recipes in any number of multi-cooker brands and have good results,” he said.
I used a slow cooker recipe for the ingredients in chili, but instead of cooking it on the slow function, I used the Instant Pot’s pressure cooker setting. The incredibly flavorful stew finished cooking in just 15 minutes. Another slow cooker recipe, for Indian chana masala, turned out deeply flavored and spicy, with perfectly cooked chickpeas and wilted spinach. It was all said and done in about 20 minutes. What’s also great is that the pot has a sauté function, meaning I finished both dinners without dirtying a sauté pan.
I’ve also pressure cooked eggs for morning breakfast, which takes about 10 minutes total and equals the easiest peeled eggs I’ve ever made. I also can’t wait to cook a whole spaghetti squash in the cooker this fall, and I’m itching to put a batch of beef short ribs in my Instant Pot, too.
Shumski said one of his favorite things to cook in his pot is dried beans. His book has a chickpea salad that can be finished in one of three ways. Another favorite is — believe it or not — no-stir risotto.
“You don’t have to let people know you didn’t labor over it,” he said, chuckling. “That’s up to you.”
In the end, I’d recommend a multi-cooker. I haven’t considered putting my Instant Pot away since I got it, and for me, it is slowly continuing to prove its value. I’ve really enjoyed the pot’s different functions, and I can say for sure I’ll make yogurt again. I dine out a lot, so meals that are finished quickly on the nights that I get home late and cook dinner are key. And anything that urges adventurous home cooks to try new things is, ultimately, a win in my book. I don’t see mine in the back of the cabinet collecting dust any time soon.
Instant Pot Recipes
This creamy, comforting Italian rice dish conjures up images of nearly endless stirring, but happily the Instant Pot relieves you of that duty. That’s right, you get all the flavor (and bragging rights) of risotto without the incessant stirring. Serve this risotto as is or prepare it three different ways: with lemon and peas for a bright, springlike flavor, with mushrooms for earthy overtones or with roasted tomatoes for a concentrated taste of summer.
No-Stir Risotto will keep, in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to three days. Risotto does not reheat particularly well, though. Your best bet is placing it in a pot with a generous splash of chicken broth. Warm the pot on the stovetop over medium-low heat while stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, adding more broth as needed to give the risotto a loose and creamy texture.
¼ cup (½ stick) salted butter
2 cups arborio rice
4 cups reduced-salt chicken broth or All-Purpose Chicken Stock (Page 86)
Press “sauté” and use the “sauté” or “adjust” button to select the middle temperature (“normal”). Place the butter in the inner pot, wait about 1 minute for it to melt, then add the rice. Cook with the lid off, stirring occasionally, until the grains of rice are opaque and well coated in butter, about 4 minutes.
Add the chicken broth and stir to combine with the risotto, scraping the pot so that no risotto sticks to the bottom. Close and lock the lid. Set the valve to “sealing.” Press “cancel,” then press “manual” or “pressure cook” and use the “pressure” or “pressure level” button to select high pressure. Use the minus or plus button to set the time to 7 minutes.
When the cooking cycle ends, carefully use a wooden spoon to release the pressure by turning the pressure-release valve to Venting. The pressure is released when the small metal float valve next to the pressure-release valve sinks back into the lid and the lid is no longer locked.
Press “cancel” and remove the lid. Stir the risotto thoroughly and serve hot.
Risotto with Lemon and Peas
Add the finely grated zest of 2 small lemons to the melted butter in step 1, before adding the rice. After removing the lid, stir in 1 cup frozen peas and stir frequently until the peas are warmed through, about 2 minutes.
Start by pressing “sauté” and using the “adjust” button to select the middle temperature (“normal”). Place 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in the inner pot, wait about 1 minute for the butter to melt, then add 8 ounces sliced white mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl, and set them aside at room temperature.
Wearing oven mitts, remove the inner pot (be careful — it’s hot!), and pour any cooking liquid into a large measuring cup. Add enough chicken broth to the cooking liquid to equal 4 cups, and set it aside. (If your measuring cup has just a 2-cup capacity, add enough broth to the cooking liquid to equal 2 cups, pour that into a large bowl, and then measure another 2 cups broth into the bowl — you want a total of 4 cups liquid.)
Return the inner pot to the appliance, and proceed with the Master Method from step 1. In step 2, replace the chicken broth with the reserved cooking liquid mixture. After removing the lid in step 4, add the reserved mushrooms and stir frequently until they are warmed through, about 1 minute. Add finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves just before serving hot.
Roasted Tomato Risotto
In step 1, substitute ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil for the butter and wait about 15 seconds for the oil to warm before adding the rice. After removing the lid in step 4, add 1 cup drained, diced fire-roasted tomatoes (from one 14½-ounce can) and ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and stir thoroughly until the tomatoes are warmed through, about 1 minute. Add thinly sliced ribbons of fresh basil just before serving hot.
Chocolate Lava Cakes with Dulce de Leche
In these cakes, the dulce de leche remains hidden at first, enveloped in the moist chocolate cake, before bursting on the scene as a warm river of caramel. It makes for an impressive dessert that happens quickly in your Instant Pot.
Nonstick cooking spray
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for garnish
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
4 teaspoons dulce de leche
1 cup water
Coat four 5- to 6-ounce ramekins with nonstick cooking spray. Place the chocolate chips and chopped chocolate in a medium bowl.
Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave on high for 2 minutes. Or place the butter in the inner pot, then press “sauté and use the “sauté” or “adjust” button to select the lowest temperature (“less”). Wait for the butter to melt, about 3 minutes.
Add the melted butter to the chocolate and stir until well combined. (If you used the inner pot to melt the butter, wash it.)
Add the confectioner’s sugar and use a fork to mix until no streaks remain. Add the eggs and egg yolks and mix until well combined.
Add the flour and salt and mix gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.
Coat a spoon with nonstick cooking spray and use it to fill each ramekin with batter halfway. Spray a 1-teaspoon measuring spoon with nonstick cooking spray and place 1 teaspoon of dulce de leche in the center of the batter, then cover with the remaining batter. (The batter should cover the dulce de leche but will not fill the ramekins.)
Place the steaming rack on the bottom of the inner pot and pour the water into the inner pot. Place the ramekins on the steaming rack, tilting them slightly if necessary to fit them. Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the ramekins. (It’s not necessary to cover the ramekins tightly; the foil is there to prevent water from dripping onto the cakes.)
Close and lock the lid. Set the valve to sealing. Press “manual” or “pressure cook” and use the “pressure” or “pressure level” button to select high pressure. Use the minus or plus button to set the time to 10 minutes.
When the cooking cycle ends, carefully use a wooden spoon to release the pressure by turning the pressure-release valve to venting. (The pressure is released when the small metal float valve next to the pressure-release valve sinks back into the lid and the lid is no longer locked.)
Press “cancel” and remove the lid. Carefully remove the foil with tongs, trying to avoid spilling water on the cakes. Allow the cakes to cool in the appliance for 10 minutes.
Remove the ramekins and dust the top of each cake with confectioners’ sugar before serving warm.
— Recipes courtesy “How to Instant Pot” by Daniel Shumski.
Basic “Roast” Pork and Rice with spicy tomatillo salsa
IN THE MORNING
Load up the cooker.
IN THE EVENING
Cook the rice and slice or pull the pork.
Ingredients for the pork
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
½ teaspoon ground cayenne
1 (3½- to 4-pound/1.6- to 1.8-kg) bone-in pork butt
2 cups (370 g) long-grain white rice
In a cup, combine the salt, chile powder and cayenne, then rub the mixture all over the pork. Put the pork in the slow cooker, fat side down. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. If using an Instant Pot, follow the same steps on the “slow cooker” setting.
Put the rice in a sieve and rinse very well under running water. Dump into a 2-quart (2-L) sauce pan and add 2¼ cups (540 ml) water and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stir once to unstick any grains from the bottom of the pan, then cover and cook over the lowest heat for 14 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Let stand, covered, for 3 minutes, then fluff with a fork or spatula.
Using tongs or two wide metal spatulas, remove the pork to a carving board. Slice or pull the meat from the bone, discarding any large pockets of fat. Serve, spooning some of the cooking liquid from the cooker over the meat.
Spicy tomatillo salsa
1 pound (455 g) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
4 ounces (115 g) jalapeño or serrano chiles, stems cut off
½ onion, cut into thick slices
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 cup (40 g) chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
MORNING OR EVENING
Preheat the broiler to high and set a rack about 6 inches (15 cm) from the heat source.
Arrange the tomatillos, jalapeños, onion slices, and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until the vegetables are softened and the tomatillos and jalapeños are charred in spots, about 15 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes. Peel the garlic. Transfer all the vegetables to a blender and add the cilantro and salt. Blend until chunky-smooth. Serve warm, or let cool, cover, and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before serving. The salsa will keep for 5 days in the refrigerator.
— Recipe courtesy “Slow Cook Modern” by Liana Krissoff.