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6 reasons the Instant Pot has won over cooks

With only online word of mouth generating heat, the pressure cooker has bubbled to the surface to become the "it" appliance of the year. But not just any pressure cooker. Specifically, the Instant Pot.

Fans on social media call the silver and black contraption "life-changing," and gush that they have "fallen in love." They call themselves addicts or cult members.

Instant Pot has nearly 400,000 Facebook fans, and it blew up Amazon's 2016 Prime Day, selling more than 215,000 cookers in just one day.

It has become the world's first viral kitchen appliance.

Though the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker has been around since 2010, it picked up steam in the past six months, after slaying Prime Day in July and again on Black Friday. The sales pressure continues to build. Just last week, three of the top 10 bestsellers in Amazon's entire kitchen department were Instant Pots of varying sizes.

I will now confess I'm one of the smitten.

A year ago, I muttered "Not again," when my husband unboxed the Instant Pot in our home. I did not like the idea of that man's love of gadgets taking up more of my precious counter space.

So now I have to tolerate his "I told you so" as I swoon when it transforms beans from bone dry to tender in 25 minutes without presoaking. I sigh when it makes perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs that I can peel with one hand because the shell slips right off.

Pressure cookers have been around for centuries — since 1679 to be exact, when a French physicist came up with the airtight steamer. They were essential in kitchens of the 1950s and '60s, even though the hissing vents and exploding pots of pea soup scared the blazes out of our grandmothers. They fell out of favor when the microwave unseated them in the 1970s as a way to cook food fast.

So why has the pressure cooker returned? And why this pressure cooker? Here are six reasons:

1 The new word of mouth

You can thank the sharing culture of Facebook and YouTube for making the Instant Pot a household name. The company gave away more than 200 of its appliances to bloggers and "influencers" who then started gushing all over social media with recipes and testimonials. The company also carefully tends to its fan community, inviting suggestions for new features and posting recipes from customers. The company hasn't bought advertising in traditional media but instead has pushed its way onto dinner tables by getting your best friend to rave about it on Instagram.

2 It's less scary

While today's stove-top versions have foolproof locking safety features, many people still associate them with the scary and noisy jiggle-top models that hissed in our grandmothers' kitchens. What makes this new generation of cookers different is how easy they are. The Instant Pot has a slew of self-regulating features for safety and cooking time so that all you do is plug it in and tap a button. Something to note: The cooking geeks at America's Test Kitchen frown on electric cookers like the Instant Pot. They don't like how it will switch to Keep Warm mode like a slow cooker, they said, requiring that delicate foods be closely monitored. They prefer the stove-top pressure cooker systems that give the cook more control.

3 It really works

Can a kitchen appliance really be that life-changing? Yes, I say. Yes it can. The design of it is as user-friendly as a slow cooker, but dinner takes less than an hour to cook instead of all day. And the higher cooking temperature isn't just faster, it produces more flavor.

"The physical reactions that produce new flavor molecules happen faster at higher temperatures," says award-winning food writer Janet A. Zimmerman. "So not only is your pressure-braised meat tender in less time, but it's just as flavorful as it would be had it simmered in the oven for hours."

And in some cases, Zimmerman said, these reactions simply won't happen at all at lower temperatures. The mushroom stock from her first pressure cooker book (The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook) develops a deep flavor under pressure that she says she has never been able to duplicate without a pressure cooker.

Zimmerman's second pressure cooker cookbook, appropriately titled Instant Pot Obsession (Sonoma Press), came out Tuesday.

4 It does a lot

It bills itself as seven (yes, seven) tools in one: pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, saute pot, steamer, warming pot and yogurtmaker. They also made it easy, with buttons just for Rice or Stew, so there's no need to look up a cooking time. The 2017 model added Cake and Egg cooking buttons. There's even one that is Bluetooth-enabled to program and monitor cooking from afar. While I have yet to stretch myself with all those features, I have discovered that it can do a lot of time-consuming chores like making flavor-packed broth, and it cuts the time in half for things like steel-cut oats and brown rice. And the internet is full of more ideas, from homemade vanilla extract that takes three hours (instead of months of steeping vanilla beans in vodka), to putting uncooked pasta with just enough water and sauce to infuse and fully cook the pasta in five minutes. I've seen raves for popcorn and cheesecake, and that's weird enough to at least try.

5 The price was right

The $69 sale on Prime Day — down from its usual $99 price — was the tipping point, and the cult of Instant Pot was born. Parent company C.A. Paradis Kitchen has reported that sales have doubled annually since the first version hit the market in 2010, and that 2016 marked yet another year of double-digit growth. You can find pressure cookers of all stripes with prices as low as $20 to more than $300 for models that are a thing of beauty. The Sweethome product-recommendation site rated the $100 Instant Pot as the best electric pressure cooker on the market and the $110 stove-top Fagor Duo 8-Quart if you want more manual control. Its budget pick was the $68 Presto 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker.

6 You can believe most (but not all) of the hype

Even the most smitten pressure cooker fan will admit there are some downsides that they have learned to live with. There's a lot of hyperbole in the recipe titles, for one. The 20-Minute Beef Stew from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook takes at least an hour start to finish because of the prepping, the searing and the time needed for the liquid to come up to temperature. But it's still a delicious stew that would have taken three hours on the stove top or all day in the slow cooker. The five-minute hard-boiled eggs took me 22 minutes total. But they were perfect and peeled like a dream.

I don't really see a big time savings in cooking white rice. But I did love the flavor infused in a batch of rice I made recently with porcini mushrooms, sauted onions and broth instead of water. When it was done, I stirred in peas and Parmesan cheese and it tasted just like risotto.

The pressure cooker recipes are best for foods you want to be tender. So while it makes the most delicious garlic mashed potatoes in five minutes cooking time (10 minutes total), you wouldn't expect potato wedges to end up with that nice crisp crust you find in roasted potatoes. And the high heat mutes the flavor of ground spices, herbs and fresh garlic, so it's best to use whole spices when cooking and add herbs after the pressure is released to brighten the dish.

Zimmerman says she'd be lying if she said she had predicted the Instant Pot obsession.

"I've seen trends come and go in cookware and appliances — breadmakers, pasta machines, slow cookers — but those predated the social media scene."

It's "a bit of a snowball effect," Zimmerman says. "Although these blogs post recipes that will work with any pressure cooker, they use the name Instant Pot to attract readers. The more the name is out there, the more cooks want to buy one."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

>>EASY

20-Minute Beef Stew

3 pounds boneless stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes (Beef chuck is a good choice for stew meat. )

cup all-purpose flour

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ cups red wine

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces

2 celery stalks, cut into ½-inch pieces

½ pound new potatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 ½ cups beef stock

3 fresh thyme sprigs

In a large bowl, toss the beef with the flour, salt and pepper to coat evenly. Set electric pressure cooker to saute and add the olive oil; warm oil. Add half the beef and brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining beef and transfer to the bowl. Add the wine to the pressure cooker and bring to a simmer, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Add the beef, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes, tomato paste, stock and thyme and stir to combine.

Lock the pressure cooker top and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Let the steam release naturally. Stir in frozen peas, if using. (If the liquid is too thin, set the pressure cooker to saute and cook until the liquid is reduced). Optional: Stir in frozen peas at the end.

Serves 6.

Source: Williams-Sonoma

>>EASY

Pressure Cooker Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I prefer my mashed potatoes with the skins, but peel them if you feel ambitious. This may seem like a lot of garlic but I took to heart the advice of pressure cooker expert Lorna Sass, who says that the high heat of the cooker mutes the flavor of spices and fresh garlic, and that fresh herbs are best added after cooking is finished.

4 to 6 skin-on red-skinned potatoes

4 garlic cloves, cut into large chunks

1 cup broth

Chopped fresh chives or parsley

1 tablespoon butter

Salt and pepper, to taste

Milk, as needed (about ¼ to ½ cup)

Scrub and cut potatoes into even chunks. Put potatoes, garlic and broth in pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. Quick release the steam when the timer beeps and mash potatoes. Add fresh herbs, butter, salt and pepper and milk and mash to desired consistency.

Serves 4.

Source: Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tampa Bay Times

>>MODERATE

Italian Chickpea Stew With Pesto

This savory Italian stew gets an extra kick from a spoonful of intensely flavored pesto at serving time. This recipe calls for making the pesto from scratch, but premade pesto is a time saver.

For the pesto:

1 ½ packed cups fresh basil leaves

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional if needed

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

 

For the chickpeas:

1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 quart water

12 ounces dried chickpeas

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, chopped (about ¾ cup)

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about ¾ cup)

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

4 cups chicken stock

¼ cup grated Parmesan or similar cheese

Make the pesto: Combine the basil, oil, cheese, garlic and pine nuts in a small food processor or blender. Pulse until a coarse paste forms, adding a tablespoon or two of water or more olive oil if necessary to get a loose enough consistency. Set aside ⅓ cup of pesto for this recipe; the remainder can be refrigerated in an airtight container for a week or so, or frozen for several months.

Make the chickpeas: Soak the chickpeas in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 1 quart of water. Let the dried chickpeas soak eight to 24 hours at room temperature. Drain and rinse.

Preheat the pressure cooker by selecting saute and adjust to more for high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion pieces separate and soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the drained chickpeas, carrots, tomatoes with their juice, stock and remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt. Lock the lid into place. Select manual; adjust the pressure to high and set the time to 10 minutes. After cooking, naturally release the pressure for 10 minutes.

Ladle the chickpeas into bowls and top each with a spoonful of pesto. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve.

Serves 4.

Source: Instant Pot Obsession by Janet A. Zimmerman

>>EASY

Pressure Cooker Chocolate Pudding

1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ cup whole milk

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 60 percent to 65 percent), chopped

5 large egg yolks

⅓ cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or 1 tablespoon dark rum or bourbon

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon (optional)

⅛ teaspoon kosher salt

Creme fraiche, or whipped cream, for serving

Chocolate shavings, for serving (optional)

In a heavy saucepan, bring cream and milk to a simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in chocolate until melted and smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, vanilla (or rum or bourbon), cardamom or cinnamon (if using) and salt. Whisking constantly, pour hot chocolate into yolk mixture. Strain through a very fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup or bowl. This can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

Pour into a 1-quart, 7-inch souffle dish, or divide chocolate mixture among six (4- to 6-ounce) custard cups, espresso cups or small ramekins. Cover with foil.

Place steamer rack in pressure cooker and fill cooker with 1 ½ cups water. If baking the larger pudding, place dish on top of rack. Cook on low pressure for 18 minutes. Wait 5 minutes, then manually release pressure. If making the individual servings, place 3 custard cups on top of rack. Cook for 5 minutes on low pressure, then manually release pressure. Repeat with remaining 3 cups.

After cooking puddings, remove foil covers to allow the steam to evaporate, and cool to room temperature. Cover puddings with plastic wrap, and chill at least 3 hours and up to 3 days before serving with creme fraiche and chocolate shavings, if you like.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: New York Times

Resources

The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Laurel Randolph was the No. 8 cookbook in sales for all of 2016 according to Publishers Weekly. Janet A. Zimmerman's Instant Pot Obsession can be ordered at bit.ly/InstantPotObsessions.

Lorna Sass, the James Beard award-winning cookbook author of Cooking Under Pressure, recently rolled out a 20th anniversary edition of the classic cookbook. She's a fan of the stove-top cooker, however. Her newest book Pressure Perfect distills her two decades of experience into one comprehensive volume.

• The website hippressurecooking.com is like an encyclopedia of recipes, buying guides, cooking times and tutorials.

6 reasons the Instant Pot has won over cooks 03/06/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 8, 2017 12:23am]
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© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

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