I got an Instant Pot for Christmas. Since then, I’ve dried out beef to the point it was inedible (my dog even agreed), overcooked chicken and somehow burned a vegetable soup. Suffice to say, the cumbersome device hasn’t exactly proven itself worthy of coveted shelving space in my kitchen.
But, I know pressure cookers get a lot of fanfare. In theory, I like the idea of being able to cook a meal in 30 or so minutes and, as much as I love my slow-cooker, I don’t like my house smelling like food all day.
I decided to give my Instant Pot another chance last weekend. I did what I probably should have done back when I got it six months ago: I thoroughly read the user manual it came with, and I browsed some blogs for tips.
Admittedly, I tend to “wing it” in the kitchen, using recipes for loose inspiration. My lack of precision makes me a good cook, a bad baker, and, up until now, a reckless Instant Pot user.
After doing some research, and reaching out to experts for some Instant Pot coaching, I decided to try making buffalo chicken lettuce wraps — a simple recipe I’ve made before in the slow cooker, but hadn’t attempted in the Instant Pot. This is a recipe I used from Skinnytaste and here’s a photo of how my dinner turned out:
The wraps turned out amazing! In the 15 minutes or so that my chicken was pressure cooking, I sliced my veggies and whipped up a homemade blue cheese dressing. I loaded the dishwasher and cleaned up the kitchen while the pressure released. The meal was mostly seamless, and it finally clicked for me why some people are so enthusiastic about their pressure cookers.
Here are the four tips that I integrated that helped me redeem myself with my Instant Pot:
I Bought a Thermometer
I still have some trust issues with my pressure cooker. Can it really cook chicken in just 10 minutes? To make sure I’m getting my food to high enough temps to prevent any foodborne illnesses, I bought a $14 kitchen thermometer (I should have done this years ago!) This time around, instead of overcooking my chicken as a “just in case” measure, I took the temperature to make sure I had the chicken up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the minimum internal poultry temperature recommended by food safety experts. Few cookbook recipes provide relevant food-safety information, and some even give bad advice, according to researchersfrom North Carolina State University.
I Gave My Instant Pot Enough Time to ‘Come to Pressure’
As an Instant Pot newbie, I was confused as to why my pressure cooker didn’t immediately start cooking. I kept releasing the pressure, removing the lid and checking in on my food. This was bad form because I wasn’t allowing the Instant Pot to gain enough pressure. Rinku Bhattacharya, the author of “Instant Indian” and the Spice Chronicles blog, explains pressure cooking time is not the same as cooking time. “It takes time, usually somewhere between 12 to 15 minutes, for the pot to come to pressure,” she says. That’s before the cooking time actually starts! So be patient.
I Added Liquid
The recipe I most recently used called for 16 ounces of chicken broth, but that wasn’t enough to cover the chicken breasts in liquid. So, I added water—which the recipe actually suggested. This is an important addition in pressure cookers because you need enough liquid to build steam in your pressure cooker, explains Virginia Fidler, International School of Cooking graduate and lifestyle expert at Money Done Right. “So unless your recipe says to do otherwise, start your Instant Pot cooking by adding 1 cup of water,” Fidler recommends. You can also add flavor to any dish by using wine, beer, stock or juices, she says.
I Followed the Release Instructions
A big mistake that people (myself included) have made is not following the “release” instructions in the recipe, Betsy Wallace, co-host of the “Dinner Sisters Podcast,” tells me. Sometimes, you can use the “quick release,” which means venting the steam out of the pot within minutes of cooking. Other recipes will tell you to “naturally release” the steam, which requires waiting up to a half an hour for the Instant Pot to naturally depressurize, she explains. “I was in a hurry once and ‘quick released’ a brisket, which caused the huge and expensive cut of meat to seize up and turn tough,” she says. The way you release the pressure is an important part of the process. For the chicken I made, I did a natural release as directed and the chicken remained tender.
Woman turning on modern electric multi cooker, closeup
My verdict? I’ll keep my Instant Pot, and continue to try and get to know it better. But, I think the claims that Instant Pots can cook dinner in 10 minutes warrants context — the time it takes to reach pressure adds another 10 to 15 minutes and the release time can be 30 minutes. That means you’re still looking at about an hour of cooking time.
Still, the Instant Pot can definitely save time and energy, especially if you’re not good at planning dinner in advance (like some of us). If you’re having trouble loving your pressure cooker, try these tips out and see if they make a difference!
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