I haven’t caved. Yet. But that’s just because the finance guy (husband) hasn’t given me the green light. So I can still pretend to be undecided about wanting an Instant Pot, or, by its generic name, a multi-cooker.
But it was past time for me to try one out and write about it. The trendy appliance has been all the rage for two years now and it’s become impossible to ignore. So I put out a request to the newsroom to see if anyone would lend me theirs for a night. Four people offered. Two remembered. I took them both home, along with users manuals and a pile of recipes.
The reality is, I fell in love with the darned things. But whether or not I’ll get one is still up in the air. They aren’t cheap, starting at $80, running to $150 for the newest with all the bells and whistles.
In case you don’t know what an Instant Pot is, crawl out from under that rock for a minute and I’ll explain: It looks like the old-fashioned cylindrical slow-cookers but features a panel of buttons on the front. Those buttons make the appliance operate like a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, a Dutch oven, a rice cooker, a steamer, a roaster, a warmer - you can even bake cakes and bread in them. Many models also do other neat stuff like make yogurt and sterilize equipment. Some models can talk to your phone through Wi-Fi. I don’t know what they talk about. Maybe they commiserate about how their owners work them to the bone.
Five things I learned:
1. The only problem with multi-cooker cooking is that you need to work with recipes written specifically for the multi-cooker. I would not attempt cooking in this machine without clear instructions about what buttons and levers to push and when. Lucky for us, these things have been out there long enough now to have a critical mass of recipes freely available for most dishes. I personally would not fool around trying to adapt a conventional recipe until I have much more experience with the machine.
Also, the converse: I cannot tell you how to use the following recipes without a multi-cooker. If you are a comfortable cook, you can figure it out, but I’m not comfortable rewriting them without trying them out.
2. Before I got serious with actual dishes, I played around a little. The first thing I did with it was make "hard-boiled" eggs. These were the fastest, best cooked-in-the-shell eggs ever. No waiting for the water to come to a simmer. No soaking. No bouncing around and cracking. And I don’t know why, but every last one of them was a dream to peel. The shells just slipped off. Total time in the multi-cooker, 20 minutes. Pretty snazzy.
3. The second thing I did was make yogurt. Why make yogurt? Well, because you have a multi-cooker, for Pete’s sake. Why not? I’ll tell you, I loved that yogurt. You put a half gallon of milk in the cooker, heat it to "boil" (which really only brings it to about 180 degrees.) Yes, it has to be 180 degrees and you need an instant-read meat thermometer. Then you let it cool to about 110 degrees before adding your yogurt culture (a tablespoon of, well, yogurt). Then you wait all night and in the morning, you have fresh yogurt. I strained mine to make it thicker.
This heating to 180 degrees and cooling to 110 degrees is done for two reasons: One to kill off any lingering wild bacteria in the milk and the other is because of a chemical reaction you get at 172 degrees that should yield a thicker yogurt. I read all this at https://nwedible.com.
4. As for the dishes - Pulled Chicken, Tex-Mex Beef Stew and Whole30 Chicken Tikka Masala - I can’t say enough about how those came out. Delicious and simple. I felt confident that the pressure-cooking function was safe, the lid was on properly and I was not about to blow up my kitchen or my co-workers’ appliances. In case you didn’t read a couple of weeks ago about my previous interactions with my own plain old pressure cooker, I’ll just say that pressure cooking without fear is worth the price of admission for me.
In my house, the Tikka Masala was the winner of the three dishes, and I’m going to have to get my own Instant Pot just so I can make it again because I barely got any. Feeding a runner husband and a teenage boy can be a drag sometimes.
5. Oh, yes, and I made rice. Yes, I can make rice in a pot on the stove. But this rice came out perfectly, nothing stuck to the bottom, no soaking of said pot required. It was nice and fluffy, and, goshdarnit, I’m going to get one of these things on my way home from work today, I swear.
Multi-cooker Whole30 Chicken Tikka Masala
Total: 1 hour, 55 minutes; active time: 30 minutes; marinating time: 1 hour; cooking time: 10 minutes; serves 4
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of any large areas of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon hot smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1½ tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
- 1 large onion, cut into a ¾-inch dice
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 3 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup tomato puree
- ½ cup coconut cream (see Cook’s Note)
- Cauliflower rice, for serving, optional
Combine the lemon juice, garam masala, coriander, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper in a large bowl. Use a fork or your hands to mix into a paste-like consistency. Add the diced chicken to the bowl and massage the spice mixture all over the chicken using your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.
Preheat a 6-quart multi-cooker using the saute setting on high (see Cook’s Note). Meanwhile, mix together the cumin, paprika, turmeric, cayenne and 1 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Add the ghee to the pot, along with the onion and spice mixture. Saute until the onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and continue cooking, 1 minute, then add the tomato paste. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, 1 minute. Pour in the tomato puree and scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pot. Turn off the pot. Add the marinated chicken to the sauce and gently stir to combine.
Follow the manufacturer’s guide for locking the lid and preparing to cook. Set to pressure cook on high 10 minutes. After the pressure cycle is complete, follow the manufacturer’s guide for quick release and wait until the quick release cycle is complete. Be careful of any remaining steam and unlock and remove the lid. Stir in the coconut cream, season to taste and serve over cauliflower rice if using.
Cook’s Note: Make sure you purchase coconut cream and not cream of coconut, which is sweetened and used for frozen cocktails. If you cannot find coconut cream you may purchase full-fat coconut milk, open without shaking and skim the cream off the top. Whisk to combine before using. Settings may vary on your multi-cooker. Refer to the manufacturer’s guide.
Nutrition information per serving: 466 calories; 16 g fat (6.8 g saturated); 200 mg cholesterol; 513 mg sodium; 14 g carbohydrate; 2.9 g fiber; 5.7 g sugar; 48 g protein
Instant Pot Tex-Mex Beef Stew
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes; active time: 30 minutes; serves 4-6
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 pounds cubed beef stew meat (preferably chuck)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 poblano chile pepper, halved, seeded and thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles
- ½ cup corn chips, finely crushed, plus more for topping
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, plus more for topping
- Cooked white rice, for serving
- Shredded cheddar cheese and sliced scallions, for topping
Mix the chili powder, cumin, coriander, paprika and cinnamon in a small bowl. Put the beef in a medium bowl; add 4 teaspoons of the spice mixture, season generously with salt and pepper and toss until coated. Set aside.
Set an Instant Pot to saute at normal heat. When the display indicates "hot," add the olive oil, then add the onion, poblano, garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 1 more minute.
Cancel the saute setting and stir in ¾ cup water and the tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add the beef and nestle it in the liquid. Put on the lid, making sure the steam valve is in the sealing position and set the cooker to high pressure for 30 minutes. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully turn the steam valve to the venting position to release the remaining pressure.
Turn off the cooker. Remove the lid and stir in the crushed corn chips, gently breaking up any large chunks of beef. Let cool a few minutes, then spoon off any excess fat from the top. Stir in the vinegar and cilantro; season with salt and pepper. Serve the stew over rice; top with cheese, scallions, cilantro and more corn chips.
Nutrition information per serving without toppings or rice: 601 calories; 38 g fat (3.3 g saturated); 91 mg cholesterol; 425 mg sodium; 17 g carbohydrate; 2.8 g fiber; 2.6 g sugar; 45 g protein
Instant Pot Pulled Chicken
Total time: 45 minutes; active time: 10 minutes; serves 4
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 4-ounce can fire-roasted diced green chiles
- 1 corn tortilla, torn
- ¼ cup packed fresh cilantro (leaves and tender stems), plus 2 tablespoons chopped leaves
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 8 ounces each)
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- 4 hamburger buns, for serving
Combine the tomato sauce, ½ cup water, the chiles, tortilla and ¼ cup cilantro in a blender. Add the chili powder, cumin, sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper; blend until smooth.
Rub the bottom of a multi-cooker insert with the vegetable oil. Add the chicken breasts to the multi-cooker along with the pureed sauce. Stir to combine. Put on the lid, making sure the steam valve is in the sealing position and set to cook on high pressure for 8 minutes. When the time is up, press the cancel button and let the steam release naturally, 10 to 15 minutes. (You can also cook frozen chicken breasts in a multi-cooker: Rinse the chicken briefly under cool water and cook on high pressure for 12 minutes.) Remove the lid and transfer the chicken to a bowl.
Set the pot to sauté at high heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Break the chicken into large chunks with two forks and return to the sauce; stir to coat. Simmer, stirring to prevent sticking, until the sauce thickens, about 8 minutes. Turn off the cooker. When the sauce stops bubbling, stir in the chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice; season with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken on buns with lime wedges.
Nutrition information per serving: 258 calories; 7.5 g fat (3.1 g saturated); 98 mg cholesterol; 743 mg sodium; 8.7 g carbohydrate; 1.3 g fiber; 2.2 g sugar; 39 g protein
Jennie Geisler can be reached on Twitter: @ETNGeisler.