Well, I'm here to tell you that this "new" technology has actually been around for decades, as any kitchen veteran can tell you. The instant pot is just a fancier, electric, high tech version of a simple, low-tech, stovetop cooking device - the pressure cooker.
And yes, I've heard that the instant pot can also be a slow cooker and steamer all in one. But while I like multipurpose appliances, I am also skeptical about over-engineered, expensive ones that have lots of features subject to failure.
I much prefer a low-tech approach to cooking. Which is why I use a steamer basket for steaming instead of a dedicated steamer machine. And which is why I'll probably never buy an instant pot, but will stick with my simple pressure cooker instead.
Like the slow cooker, it can save a household quite a bit of money in the long run by making meal preparation more convenient and minimizing the inclination to turn to expensive (and unhealthy) prepared foods or restaurant meals.
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I recommend having one in your cupboards for saving time and money in the kitchen.
However, unlike slow cookers that allow the cook to mix ingredients and leave it plugged in for hours so that the meal is ready at the end of a long day, the pressure cooker speeds cooking time, cutting meal preparation time in half or even by two thirds.
It’s the go-to device in my household for those times when I arrive home late and am faced with getting a planned meal on the table in even less time than usual.
The Pressure Cooker as a Time and Sanity Saver
Let’s say I’ve planned a soup recipe. But I arrive home late and just don't have an hour to get dinner on the table. I can pop most or all of the ingredients into a pressure cooker large enough to hold them and in 15-30 minutes, the vegetables are tender, any meat in the recipe is cooked, and the soup is ready to eat.
So, despite the time crunch, we enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve kept to my budget despite the unexpected time issue.
The same goes for those times when I suddenly realize I don’t have any canned legumes, such as chick peas, on hand for the dinner I planned -- and yes, those planning fails happen even to kitchen veterans like me on occasion.
Fortunately, the pressure cooker can have them and other beans ready to serve in about a half hour. That’s some serious time savings over the standard overnight soak and hour or more of cooking time called for to prepare dry beans.
It can cook things like potatoes in 10 minutes or less.
Large artichokes, that springtime indulgence that I treat myself to every April, normally take 45 minutes or so to simmer in a large pot of water. In the pressure cooker, they are done to a tender perfection in about 10-20 minutes, depending on size.
I also use mine to make brown rice when I’m in a hurry. In the pressure cooker, the cook time drops from a total of 45 minutes to about 20 minutes. The same goes for other whole grains, such as barley.
My appreciation for the pressure cooker stems from my childhood. We learned to use one from a young age, and it was Mom’s standby method for making many a meal when time was running short, including the aforementioned stew.
Its added benefit of tenderizing meat meant Mom could buy the cheapest cuts and still have delicious results. That's an advantage any frugal cook can appreciate.
Mom had 3 different pressure cookers on hand in different sizes, ranging from medium to extra large to accommodate our large family and the appetites that went along with that.
I have only one myself, a well-used, mid-sized one that is heavy-duty stainless steel. It's a good size for my needs, and I like the stainless steel.
By the way, heavy is the operative word here. These pots weigh a lot since they are made to withstand pressurized cooking. In fact, that's about their only drawback and the major reason I don't use them every day in my cooking.
That's also one reason they can be a bit pricey, particularly in the larger sizes. However, they will last for decades, so it's a one-time investment that will pay back its expense many times over. And they are still much cheaper than the upmarketed instant pots.
Look for sales, since you can do quite well on the purchase price when they occur. Keep your eyes peeled for those.
You can also sometimes get used ones at yard sales and thrift shops at huge savings. These are often missing the rubber gasket that seals the lid of the pots during cooking. Or they have an old, cracked one.
Without these gaskets, the pots are largely useless, but replacement should not be a problem.
Gaskets need to be replaced as regular maintenance on a pressure cooker anyway after so much wear and tear, so check the manufacturer's website or Amazon to see if you can order replacement ones from there. Stores such as Walmart and Ace Hardware typically carry them as well.
Benefits Beyond Faster Cooking
Pressure cooking has a few other benefits besides just speedier cook times.
- It allows you to cook using less water or liquid of any kind, which helps retain vitamins in the food.
- It also means you actually end up using your stovetop for less time, which means energy savings over time.
- And the shorter cooking time also means there is less heat generation in the cooking process during the hot months of summer.
Here’s a general guide to using them, although some of the steps might vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, so it’s important to read the user’s manual that comes with the pot you use.
For soups and sauces, simply prepare everything as you would for regular stovetop cooking and add it to the pressure cooker. For these recipes, there is no need to use the bottom rack that comes with the pressure cooker.
Just be sure not to fill the pot past the indicated fill line or as instructed in the manual, usually about 2/3 full.
For vegetables or meat, first place the rack on the bottom of the cooker. Add just enough water to come up to the top of the rack, so about ½ inch. You do not need more than that.
Then just follow these operating steps:
- Adjust the lid so it sits level and flat on the pot. You’ll know it’s right when the handles can be easily turned and lined up directly on top of one another.
- Place the weight on the cooker.
- Place the pot over high heat and bring it up to pressure. You’ll know this has happened when the button on the handle pops up, and/or the weight begins to rattle gently. (If the weight begins to rattle furiously, then remove the pot from direct heat for a few minutes before resuming).
- Turn the temperature down to low/medium low. Check the pressure cooker instruction manual for cooking times and set a timer for however long the contents of the pressure cooker need.
- When the timer goes off, move the entire pot to the sink and run cool water over the top. There will be quite a bit of hissing as the pot cools and de-pressurizes. Do not try to remove the lid until you see the pressure button pop down again.
- Carefully remove the lid by turning the handles in opposite directions and lifting it off.
- Check the contents for doneness. If they require more cooking time, simply restore the lid and weight and repeat the process for 5-10 minutes.
- The contents are ready for serving or for adding to recipes.