I broke my slow cooker last week. We used it quite a bit in our house, as my husband will make batch upon batch of beans mixed with various vegetables and me coming up with vegetarian meal ideas like spicy chickpea stews and that one time I made lasagna by layering long slices of zucchini with marinara sauce and a mix of ricotta cheese and herbs. Now, it’s gone, but when life gave me a broken slow cooker, I recalled seeing a Facebook post by a friend about her Instant Pot (Hello, Sarah) and thought, “Heck, I’ll just get one of those!” I did, and became a member of what I would quickly found out is a very enthusiastic group of fans. While I’m in my early days of discovery, I can see that I might soon become an Instant Pothead. Yes, that’s what they call themselves.
When I crowed about my purchase on social media, I got many responses from people who swear by the Instant Pot but I was surprised to see many who never heard of it. Depending on which model you buy, it’s a 6-in-1 up to 10-in-1 multi-use programmable pressure cooker that can also function as a slow cooker, rice cooker, egg cooker, steamer, warmer and saute vehicle that can even make yogurt and cakes. There’s even one that can connect to an app via BlueTooth by which you can control the programs. That one runs about $150. My LUX60 V3 6 quart model with 6 uses was $80.
Once I had it, I did some googling to find thousands of recipe and review websites, oodles of cookbooks dedicated to it and all sorts of opinions and suggestions. One even tested making hard boiled eggs and the perfect timing for each yolk “doneness’ with such academic rigor, complete with images for each stage, there should be a PhD awarded. I did some research on the company and they used an “influencer” or “experience” model of marketing at first, sending the Instant Pot to 200 bloggers and journalists who used it and wrote about it. They certainly did. Social media spread the word quite nicely and now there are forums, Reddit groups, apps and a Facebook group with more than 600,000 members. This small Canadian company founded by engineers had the number one selling product on Amazon for awhile. I bought my own, by the way, and I’m so very late to the Instant Pot game it seems.
At its most basic, it’s a pressure cooker a device that’s been around for quite awhile. It speeds up cooking up to ten times and uses up to 70% less energy than other cooking methods. The company says that pressure cooking retains more nutrients (the vitamins are not removed by too much water) and veggies retain their bright color. Because food is cooked above the boiling point, it kills more bacteria. These engineers used their own life experiences to build a better mousetrap, as it were, and enhance the good old pressure cooker, making it multi-use and programmable. Now they have many models and even introduced a sous vide immersion circulator. Science!
So far, I’ve hard boiled eggs which worked very well. The eggs came out with a perfectly fluffy yolk and the shell came off easily. I’d been using a cheap egg steamer called an Egg Genie before, so that can now go on the yard sale pile (sorry Egg Genie company). We cooked Jasmine rice which also came out perfectly and you can program the machine to make rice with different textures. That big pot of vegetarian chili turned out well, too. At first I used the slow cooker function for about 4 hours but when my husband had to go to work, I noticed the peppers were still a bit undercooked, so I sped the whole process up by going to pressure cooking for ten minutes. Et Voila! Chili. You can do the whole pot just pressure cooked at under an hour.
My most recent try was with a whole chicken. After stuffing it with lemon wedges and topping it with herbs, spices and butter, I used the saute function to brown the outside top and bottom in ghee. Flipping the four pound chicken over in the Pot is awkward. I used tongs and stuck one “finger” into the cavity. One of those poultry forks for slipping under the bird would be useful. My browning didn’t turn out well on the first go. Some of the skin stuck to the bottom so the next time, I’ll use a bit more ghee and add some olive oil. I then started the pressure cooking process for 24 minutes and when that shut off, allowed the machine to steam release “naturally” rather than the quick release venting. Ta-da! I had a juicy, tender chicken in about 40 minutes with plenty of juices at the bottom of the insert for gravy or bone broth which can also be made in the Instant Pot.
There’s certainly a learning curve with the Instant Pot and plenty of timing and programming nuances to explore. I did have to refer to the manuals and when I was still confused, ask the internet universe. Whatever my question was, there was some pothead out there on the internet to answer it. “How do I know it’s de-pressurized is done?” There are at least 50 videos for that.
Now, just midway through a Sunday, I sit at home waiting for my bone broth to finish (in only about an hour), not at all surprised that Elizabeth posted on social media that she spends all day on Sunday making lunch for the week in her Instant Pot. I feel like just making at least five more dishes. Now, how do I make a cheesecake in this thing?
— Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Exeter, NH (and Austin, TX). She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com