I’m greedy and I’m lazy, which are two generally incompatible things in the kitchen, but I have a cheat and it’s the Instant Pot pressure cooker. We got ours as a Christmas gift last year, and since then it’s become a go-to in the kitchen whether we’re cooking meat, vegetables, or making rice or even stock. The good news is, while an Instant Pot normally has a $130 rrp, it’s in Amazon’s Black Friday sale today for $68.95. Read on for why I think you should get one.
If, like me, you grew up with a traditional pressure cooker occasionally appearing on the stove top in the kitchen, you might have some unsettling memories to contend with. The old-fashioned examples relied on manually adjusting the heat underneath to maintain the right pressure, with a fiddly little weight-valve on top that would sputter and steam. Get it wrong, or forget about it altogether, and the whole thing was likely to explode.
Happily, modern electric pressure cookers promise to do all the heavy thinking on your behalf. Rather than having to manually adjust heat and keep to the correct pressure, the electronics do all that. All you’re responsible for is setting the overall cooking time with the keypad on the front.
In fact, the Instant Pot will do pressure cooking and several more things. There are presets for making soup and yogurt, fermenting milk, making rice, and a number of other options, though most of the time I hit the “manual” button and just enter the time myself.
What can you cook in a pressure cooker? The technique really shines when it’s about taking the tougher cuts of meat and getting them fork-tender in a fraction of the time you’d require in an oven. A beef brisket, for instance, can be ready in just over an hour; I’ve turned a five pound pork shoulder into pulled-pork after ninety minutes.
My preferred spare ribs recipe, meanwhile, won’t win me any friends among proper BBQ pit crews, but it certainly avoids a day of cooking. 22 minutes for a rack of pork ribs in the Instant Pot, then brushed with sauce and crisped up on the grill outside, and dinner is ready. All with less cooking time than it takes to get the grill itself up to temperature.
On the other hand, vegetables are also dealt with quickly. Yesterday, for Thanksgiving, I cooked sweet potatoes to be mashed in eight minutes. A pot full of diced butternut squash, onion, garlic, and pork stock turned into soup ready for the blender in ten minutes.
It’s not entirely fuss-free, I’ve found. In almost a year of very heavy use – we haven’t turned on our traditional oven in months – I’ve noticed a couple of annoyances. For a start, if the rubber gasket around the underside of the lid isn’t exactly in place (it can be more likely to shift if the pressure is manually released, it seems) then the whole thing never gets up to the proper pressure and temperature. Running a finger around the seal before you put the lid on to guide it into place is the easiest fix.
There’s also some degree of trial-and-error, unless you have the recipe perfected. Since the pressure cooking chamber is sealed, you can’t give whatever is inside a sneaky prod with a fork to see whether it’s tender or not. Depending on the cut of meat you’re using, it can be a case of trying a time, letting the pressure ease, opening it up to check, and then starting the whole thing over again for another 10-15 minutes. Not the worst thing in the world, no, but it can knock your overall kitchen timings if you’re also preparing side-dishes.
Thankfully there’s a guide to timings in the accompanying recipe book, and since pressure cooking in general is experiencing something of a resurgence, there are increasing numbers of people online sharing their findings and their favorite flavors. Even if you try the technique only occasionally, since the Instant Pot works as a slow cooker as well you have a couple of appliances in a single countertop footprint. For $68.95 on Black Friday it’s a kitchen bargain.
Update: Good news if you missed the Black Friday deal: Amazon has made the Instant Pot a Cyber Monday product too.
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