We tried the Instant Pot and here’s what we think…
I don’t remember where I first discovered the Instant Pot; but it was well before it hit our shores. I do however remember where I discovered it was launching in South Africa (Twitter) and the moment it become my favourite kitchen appliance (the first time I tried making rice in it).
The Instant Pot was invented in 2009 by Robert Wang, who moved to Canada from China in the 1990s. It hit the market late 2010 to a less than enthusiastic reception. Undeterred, Robert Wang pushed on, and by 2012 Instant Pot become an Amazon best seller. In 2016, the Instant Pot became a viral sensation in the US, with a cult-like following (but more fun, because you know food). In 2018, the Instant Pot hit South Africa and I was able to get my hands on the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 6L smart cooker, which is an upgraded version of the original Instant Pot and one of the over 30 Instant Pot variations you can get. Many of the features I’ve been enjoying were suggested by early users. Robert Wang read every Amazon review on the Instant Pot and improved upon and added features based on what the customer wanted.
The Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 is a multi-cooker which can act as a slow cooker, pressure cooker, steamer, rice cooker, sauté/browning pan, yogurt maker and a food warmer. The actual appliance comes with 8 pre-programmed pressure-cooking settings (soup/broth, meat/stew, bean/chilli, rice, poultry, multigrain, porridge and steam); as well as settings for the other 6 functions which come with a pre-set time for you to work with. All of which can all be adjusted.
With a cult-like status, enormous following and the ability to do the jobs of 7 different appliances in 1; the Instant Pot has positioned itself as the only appliance you need in your kitchen. The question is can it do all those functions well, is it worth the price and or is it all just hype?
I’ve had the Instant Pot for a month now. During that month I’ve used it on average 2-3 times a week. I knew enough about the Instant Pot before I had it to know I’d like it. In some ways I probably had a leg in the cult door. After the first time I made rice, yes rice, I was fully immersed in that cult and had turned into an Instant Pot salesperson. What can I say, when I like something, I really like it.
Sure you can make an entire meal in it in under an hour, in some cases under 30 minutes. But have you ever made rice over the stove? The amount of liquid suggested on the back of the packet is never enough. You have to keep a constant vigil over the pot so it doesn’t over-boil or burn out. And the fancier the rice, the more prep you need to do. I started bold with jasmine rice, which requires soaking, rinsing, boiling, steaming. I read the manual, looked at the handy A4 guide on cooking times which has become my most read piece of paper, did some googling and was ready. I rinsed the rice, added it to the pot with water, set it to cook for 5 minutes, allowed it to slow release for 10 minutes, left the room to do whatever else I had to do and returned 15 minutes later. When I opened the lid, I had the most perfect rice. It wasn’t just an aha moment for me, but an aha moment for everyone around me and anyone I spoke to for the next 24 hours.
Since that aha moment I’ve steamed veggies in my Instant Pot to perfection, made the perfect boiled eggs and entire meals from veggie curries, soups, Bolognese, roast, chicken broths, boboties and chicken broths in it (2019 will be my year of Instant Pot recipes, here’s my first). I’ve used every function except the yogurt maker function, and really I’m just getting started.
The four things that I love about the Instant Pot and what sets it apart from anything similar I’ve used are:
1. It takes the cooking tasks that are finicky, take time and not fun to make and makes them really really easy and fast. Things that I don’t like cooking – grains, rice, eggs and root vegetables are done in minutes without supervision. As someone who is a chronic kitchen multi-tasker, this is a dream.
2. The sauté function allows you to build flavour into a dish before pressure cooking. There are certain dishes like soups or stews that I like to start by sauteing and slowly adding the ingredients. It makes the dish taste better because the flavour has developed more. In a slow cooker I would do that in a pan and then add it to the cooker, the Instant Pot allows you to do that in one bowl which is easier and means less to wash up.
3. The pressure-cooking function – I’ve made the best most clear chicken broth in an hour and cooked a roast in two. These are both things that usually take hours. It’s fast food that’s good for you.
4. Despite the fact that it can essentially act as a stove (and pan/pot), slow cooker, pressure cooker, steamer and more it’s actually quite portable. It’s compact and light. I listened to a podcast where John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods said he doesn’t travel without a rice cooker. He uses it every morning to make his oats and when he’s travelling, he’ll bring it along with dry oats, buy almond milk and fruit and make it for breakfast. While I would not take the Instant Pot everywhere it is something I would take if I were going on holiday somewhere local and using self-catering accommodation because I would essentially be able to make proper meals with nothing but an Instant Pot and an electrical outlet.
In my month long foray into the world of Instant Pot I’ve also picked up some tips and features…
1. Add at least 5 minutes to whatever the time it says to make something – this is the time it needs to warm up. It doesn’t go from OFF to ON to ready to go in an instant, it needs time to warm up. I’ve found that time depends on what program you choose and if you’re moving from one program to another ie. Saute to pressure cook. So build 5-10 minutes into your cooking time to allow for that. However, once you’ve switched on and selected your program you can leave the room. It’ll click into the program and start the timer once it’s properly warmed up. Once time is up it automatically goes into the keep warm function, but has a timer so you can see how long it’s been sitting there.
2. The release valve isn’t as scary as it looks. Yes, there’s plenty warnings about releasing steam and hand and face placement – you don’t want any body parts in the direct line of steam. But it requires the lightest flick of a finger to release and you can do it from the side. Unless you’re doing a slow release, in which case over time the valve will pop down, it also takes a few minutes for the steam to release and the valve to pop down before you can open the lid. So just stand there and envelop yourself in the smells of whatever you’ve made as they steam out the lid.
3. It has a BURN setting. I discovered this accidentally as one does. You don’t set out to burn food. It just happens. I had set mince to pressure cooked, walked out the kitchen and heard a series of beeps I’d never heard before. I returned to 4 letters in red on the monitor “BURN”. I cancelled, released, and by a hair, saved my supper. It turns out there’s a burn protection feature which will notice when it starts overheating, when it does it reduces the temperature. This is especially handy considering the lid is metal and there’s no way of seeing how the food is doing until you remove the lid.
So is it the best appliance you can get? I think it depends on what and how you cook. If you make a lot of grains, hot meals, soups and stews it’ll become your most used appliance. It’s incredibly versatile but still compact, making it great if you don’t have the space for bulky or multiple appliances. I’ve also found it very user friendly and easy to clean. I’d get an instant pot over a slow cooker as you can do so much more in it, it can cook both slow and fast and is so much lighter (and yes, I do have a slow cooker, love it and used it often. Until I got the Instant Pot which has all but replaced it).
If you’ve got one toe in the Instant Pot waters and want to join us, you can get the Instant Pot and accessories at Faithful to Nature, Yuppie Chef, @home and Hirsch’s. Find out more here and join the Instant Pot SA Facebook page for recipes.
Photography: Feige Lewin
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