One cooking appliance that I have never felt a need to purchase is an Instant Pot. I saw no reason for it and did not want to take up any more precious space in my pantry. One of my husband’s colleagues recently gave us one as she said she did not need it. So, I have begun to delve into the world of the Instant Pot and decided to devote this Cooking Tip to this subject.
At its most basic, the Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker although it can also be used for other functions such as slow cooking, yogurt making, rice cooker and even sautéing food. The actual programs that are available will depend on the model of the Instant Pot.
Any pressure cooker works by creating high pressure inside the cooker. This allows the boiling point of water to increase above normal. Therefore, you are cooking the food at higher temperatures than you can achieve on the stovetop and thus, the food cooks faster. As the pressure pushes water into the food, it not only helps to speed up the cooking process but also keeps food very moist.
One point about cooking food faster. Yes, that is correct but the cooking time does not usually include the time it takes for the Instant Pot to fully pressurize. The cooking time begins after that happens. You need to add anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to the overall time to account for this pressurization step. There is also the time to depressurize to consider. If doing a natural (rather than quick) depressurization, add another 10-15 minutes.
If you live at high altitude as I do, you realize that cooking and baking sometimes takes adjustments. For prior Cooking Tips, see these links.
Since pressure cooking increases the temperature that you can achieve within the pressure cooker, you might think that altitude adjustments would not need to be made. However, this is not true. The general recommendation is to increase the cooking time by 5% for every 1000 feet over 2000 feet. For example, I live at 6000 feet, which is 4000 feet above 2000 feet. So, 4 X 5% means I should increase the cooking time by 20%. There are charts that you can find. Here is one from A Mindfull Mom.
So, why use an Instant Pot? It is said to cook foods up to 70% faster than a conventional cooking method. Because of that, I find it most useful for cooking items that do take a significant amount of time such as tough cuts of meat, beans or whole grains. If you are cooking something that would cook in under 20 minutes stovetop, there is really no reason to use the Instant Pot.
There are also things that you should not cook in an Instant Pot. Let me address just a few. Because the Instant Pot cooks by using steam, anything you want crispy such as breaded meats will not get crispy but will rather be soggy. Delicate cuts of meat are better stovetop where you can cook to a recommended internal temperature as well as achieving the surface caramelization. Similarly, burgers are not good in the Instant Pot as they will taste “boiled” and not have that nice crispy exterior.
Dairy and creamy sauces bring their own problems to the Instant Pot. Curdling is a real risk. The pressure valve can easily get clogged from the dairy, leading to problems with sealing and pressurization. So, any dairy product should be either cooked conventionally or added at the end of the cooking time by using the Sauté function or just the residual heat of the Instant Pot,
Another advantage is that it is pretty much “hands off” during the cooking time so you can do other tasks.
Because the Instant Pot is so popular, there are a myriad of online sources that will help you to get the most out of it. There are also cookbooks galore; a search of just my library showed 90 results. You may also try converting your stovetop recipe to one for Instant Pot. Here is another chart that will help you with that.
I have just started experimenting with this appliance and am not totally sure about it as of yet. That may change as I use it more. What about you? Do you have one? What do you love to cook in it? Let me know.