Instant Pot takes the pressure off busy cooks
The Instant Pot was not the first electric pressure cooker to hit the market. But since its launch in 2010, it has become one of the most popular among young, granola-eating moms, due to a grassroots fan base that has exploded through web-based communities and old-fashioned word of mouth.
The 7-in-1, multipurpose appliance houses a microprocessor that allows home cooks to program it to fit their busy schedules and their families' food needs. It can take the place of the pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté pan, steamer, yogurt maker and stockpot warmer.
Some home cooks are so enamored of it, they say they have even forgotten how to turn on their ovens.
“This would be the best thing for someone going off to college, because this pot would do everything,” said Joanne Williams of Sebastopol, who bought her first Instant Pot appliance a year ago, then purchased a second one for yogurt making. “It's not small, but it's just the perfect one-pot solution for anything.”
The appliance is so versatile that some people take it on the road with them, cooking with it in their RV or powering it up in a Prius so they can use it while car camping.
But its target audience is the busy, American worker who puts in long hours and is looking for a convenient way to cook meals quickly, ahead of time, with little fuss or muss.
“I work all day,” said Paula Hardin of Santa Rosa, manager of the Airport Health Club in Windsor. “What I like about it is that oatmeal takes three minutes, and I make it for the week. And the soup is very fast. Again, I make it for the week.”
Hardin fell in love with the Instant Pot after taking a class from Jill Nussinow of Santa Rosa, an authority on pressure cooking who is widely known as “The Veggie Queen” because of her classes and cookbooks focused on plant-based, whole foods.
“It's ideal for anybody who doesn't have a lot of time,” Nussinow said. “You can pre-set it so the food will cook, and then you come home and it's ready.”
One of the big selling points is that the Instant Pot is more user-friendly than a stove-top pressure cooker.
“People have a fear of pressure cookers, like they are going to blast off toward the ceiling,” Williams said. “I had the old kind, and I used it once and just threw it out.”
“The electric cooker takes some of the user error out of it,” said Nussinow, who has cooked with an Instant Pot for about three years. “It's much harder to make things go wrong ... If the lid is not on correctly, it beeps at you.”
But its relative ease does not mean that you can blithely skip the appliance's instruction manual.
“What I explain to people is that it's not intuitive - it's scientific and mathematical,” Nussinow said. “It helps to have experience with the stove-top pressure cooker, but the main thing is that you have to do a little learning.”
Like learning to drive a car or use a smart phone, consumers can get frustrated if they do not actually put some time into getting to know the smart pot.
And, because it was developed by engineer Robert Wang, the Instant Pot has also been getting smarter, with new updates that include additional settings for pressure, a detachable cord and even a wireless connection.
“We started with stove-top pots, pans and pressure cookers, then slow cookers, rice cookers and electric pressure cookers,” Wang said in a press release from the manufacturer, Double Insight Inc. “
We are now in the era of smartcookers, which are equipped with microprocessors and an array of sensors, and are wirelessly connected to cook meals and dishes intelligently.”
The appliance has also grown over the years, starting out with a 6-quart stainless steel cooking bowl, then expanding with an 8-quart bowl.
“People really love that it has a stainless steel bowl,” Nussinow said. “It's easy to clean, and people want to cook healthy without the nonstick.”
Unlike a slow cooker, you can set the appliance to sauté and brown your aromatics without having to dirty another pan. Nussinow often skips the oil, adding a little liquid if her garlic and onions start to stick.
Like old-school pressure cookers, the Instant Pot has a silver button on the top that pops up when the interior has come up to pressure, due to the building steam. After the cooking process is over, you have to wait for the button to drop, which means the pressure has been released. Until that happens, the lid will not open.
The second generation of Instant Pots offers two settings for pressure: low to cook vegetables, and high to cook beans and soup. Some folks tend to cook vegetables for too long, Nussinow said. The key is learning how to use the quick-release valve, which lets out the steam and stops the cooking immediately.