Food & Drink

Instant Pot offers convenience, multiple functions, but not all superior

The Instant Pot is to 2017 what the electric fondue pot was to 1971 or the bread machine was to 1995.

This multifunctional programmable appliance — It’s a slow cooker! It’s a steamer! It makes yogurt! — seems to have been the “it” holiday gift for 25- to 45-year-olds in Eastern Iowa last year.

On a recent Monday, several Gazette staffers were talking about our weekends.

“I made chicken korma in the Instant Pot I got for Christmas,” features reporter Alison Gowans said.

“I got an Instant Pot for Christmas, too!” I replied.

“Me, too!” chimed in higher education reporter Vanessa Miller.

I was skeptical about the Instant Pot’s claims it can do everything from steaming vegetables and hard-cooking eggs to sauteing meat and proofing bread. I don’t think it can iron dress shirts or scan documents, but I haven’t read the whole manual yet. Still, it’s tempting to think one appliance could replace several gathering dust in my pantry.

Gowans, Miller and I decided to put our Instant Pots to the test with several recipes using the appliance’s unique features. Here’s what worked, what didn’t work and what we’re eager to try next.

Alison Gowans

I am an impatient cook. I have a tendency to lift the lid to check on rice before I should, even though you’re not supposed to let out the steam. I always think meat takes too long to cook, and I often put food in the oven while it still is preheating.

All of this makes the Instant Pot perfect for me. Not only does it cook food in record time, it takes away the temptation to lift the lid and prod the food instead of letting it simmer in peace, simply because the lid is sealed. It gives me the freedom to press the buttons, walk away and let the pressure cooker do the work.

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I’ve broken out my Instant Pot only a few times so far, but those have all been successful. In this season of flu and congestion, I used it to make chicken soup. The recipe, which I adapted from Williams Sonoma, called for browning the chicken thighs I used before boiling them. I’ll skip this step next time. The “saute” function is the only part of the Instant Pot I dislike. The three temperature settings — low, medium or high — don’t offer the fine tuning of heat that I’m used to on my gas stove. The pot also is not very wide, so I had to brown the meat in batches.

Despite that annoyance, the soup turned out flavorful and was ready to eat in almost no time. The Instant Pot’s “keep warm” setting did just that, keeping it warm for the second bowlful.

The next challenge: figuring out how to adapt my grandmother’s chicken and dumpling recipe for the Instant Pot.

Vanessa Miller

Finding a way to finagle kale or flaxseed or nutritional yeast — or any of the other health foods du jour — into the bodies of the tiny humans living in my house is among my missions.

So when I landed an Instant Pot for Christmas, along with an 100-plus-page recipe book, my flipping through the pages of roasts and stews and jams and yogurts halted at the mention of a “smoky potato and kale soup.” My kids like soup. They don’t like potatoes. I decided to swap potatoes for chunks of cauliflower, which they do like.

My first issue was my Instant Pot recipe book was made for a model I didn’t have. It asked me to use the pressure cooker button, which I don’t have, and the plus-minus buttons to select “high pressure,” which I also can’t do with my pot. Thus I thought it was broken and called in reinforcements — my mom, who lives about a mile away.

We pored over the pot and its guide for no less than an hour — while my kids screamed at me for various things, including to be careful because that pot was going to burn my face off. I may or may not have said something like that to them in hopes of keeping them from pushing all the buttons and breaking it for real.

Eventually, we realized we didn’t need to send it back. It’s just a different model that doesn’t have “low,” “medium,” and “high” pressure settings for its “manual” aka “pressure cook” setting.

Well, why didn’t you just say so?

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The soup turned out super awesome and delicious. Of course my kids wouldn’t eat it. Not because of the kale. But because of the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, which — of course — I shouldn’t have added if I really expected them to eat it.

So the recipe was a win for me and my husband and my mom. And, you might think, a fail for the littles. EXCEPT — I had all this leftover kale. So I decided to tap the steam function and just throw in the leftover chopped greens with one cup of water. Five minutes later, we had the softest — like butter — steamed kale that I’ve ever had. And the kids loved it. And so this happy accident is why I call the entire recipe a win.

Next up for the Instant Pot is jam. I’ve actually bought pectin for a recipe I plan to try.

Erin Jordan

We eat a lot of yogurt in our house and although I’ve never had a problem buying it ready- made, a friend suggested I make yogurt in the Instant Pot because it’s cheaper and environmentally kind to skip the plastic containers.

The process of making yogurt is relatively simple: Boil milk, cool it down, add active cultures and let the mixture ferment. The Instant Pot allows you to do all these functions in one stainless steel vessel.

It didn’t take me long to run into a problem.

The recipe said pressing the “yogurt” button once would make the screen say “boil,” bringing the half-gallon of whole milk to 180 degrees in 35 minutes. I never got the “boil” message and tried different options, opening and closing the lid a few times, before my husband suggested pressing the button twice. Of course it worked.

The Instant Pot is more complicated than some kitchen appliances and requires careful reading of the manual and recipes to make sure you’re doing things properly. There’s also some trial and error, which I expect with any new gadget.

The rest of the yogurt recipe progressed smoothly. I strained the whey from the plain yogurt to make a thicker Greek version. My next recipe will be using that tangy whey to make bread or oatmeal waffles.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Recipes

Instant Pot chicken noodle soup

Serves 6

2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 celery stalks, chopped

1/2 yellow onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon minced thyme

6 cups chicken broth

1/2 pound egg noodles

1 tablespoon lemon juice

On saute mode, warm olive oil, and saute carrots, celery and onion and saute until softened, about five minutes. Add garlic and thyme and saute about 30 seconds. Add chicken to pot along with broth.

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Lock lid into place and cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. Let steam release naturally for 15 minutes before releasing the rest of the steam and removing the lid. Remove chicken and shred into bite-sized pieces, discarding skin and bones.

Turn the Instant Pot to saute mode, and when broth comes to a boil, add noodles and cook about six minutes or according to package instructions. Return chicken to pot, add lemon juice, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Plain yogurt

Makes 2 quarts. Hands on time: 10 minutes. Incubate: 8 hours. Chill 8 to 12 hours.

2 quarts milk (I used whole milk)

2 tablespoons plain yogurt with active live cultures, room temperature

Pour milk into the inner pot of a 6-quart Instant Pot. Close and lock the lid; turn the steam release handle to “venting.” Press [Yogurt] button (twice, in my case) and select “More” mode. You should see the word “boil” on the display. Stirring the milk occasionally will help prevent hot spots on the bottom of the pot. When the milk reaches 180 degrees, the ford “yogt” will appear and the Instant Pot will beep. Stir well and check to make sure temperature registers between 180-185 degrees. If the temperature is less than 180 degrees, press [Yogurt] again and repeat the cycle.

Open the lid. Remove the inner pot from the cooker and cool to 110-115 degrees. (I put the pot in an ice bath and it took 10 minutes.)

Stir yogurt and gradually stir in 1/2 cup of milk, about 1/4 cup at a time. Pour into the remaining milk in the pot and stir well. Place the inner pot into the cooker. Close and lock the lid. Turn the team release handle to “venting” position and press [Yogurt]. Insure that normal mode is selected. Set timer for eight hours. (I did this overnight.)

When time is up, Instant Pot will beep, “yogt” will show on the display and the cooker will go into standby mode.

Test to see if yogurt is set. It should have a custard texture and taste mildly tart. Yogurt will continue to thicken and become slightly more tart as it chills. If yogurt is not set or you desire a firmer product, press [Yogurt] and set it for an extra one to two hours.

When yogurt is ready, remove inner pot from the cooker. Cover and chill for eight to 12 hours.

To make Greek yogurt, strain plain yogurt through a cheese cloth or coffee filters layered in a colander. Store yogurt in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Source: Adapted from Instant Pot All-Time Best Recipes

Smoky Potato and Kale Soup

S1 cup water

1 1/2 pounds baby potatoes (about 15 potatoes), unpeeled, quartered

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small white or yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch of salt, plus extra for serving

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for serving

6 cups reduced-salt vegetable broth

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon minced canned chipotle chilies in adobo

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8 ounces flat-leaf or curly-leaf kale, stems removed, leaves sliced crosswise into 1⁄4-inch ribbons

Creme fraiche or sour cream, for serving

Place the water and the potatoes in the inner pot. Close and lock the lid. Set the valve to Sealing. Press Manual or Pressure Cook and use the Pressure or Pressure Level button to select High Pressure. Use the — or + button to set the time to 1 minute.

When the cooking cycle ends, carefully use a wooden spoon to release the pressure by turning the pressure-release valve to Venting. (The pressure is released when the small metal float valve next to the pressure-release valve sinks back into the lid and the lid is no longer locked.)

Remove the lid. Wearing oven mitts, remove the inner pot (be careful — it’s hot!), drain the potatoes through a colander, and set them aside until step 6. Return the inner pot to the appliance.

Press Cancel, then press Sauté and use the Sauté or Adjust button to select the lowest temperature (“Less”). Place the olive oil in the inner pot, wait about 1 minute for the oil to warm, then add the onion, garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook with the lid off, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens slightly, about 5 minutes.

Add the broth, chili powder, oregano, and chipotle and stir to combine. Press Cancel, then press Sauté and use the Sauté or Adjust button to select the middle temperature (“Normal”).

Allow the soup to come to a simmer, about 5 minutes. Add the kale and reserved potatoes, stir to submerge the kale, and cook until a steak knife easily pierces a potato and the kale is soft, about 5 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with a dollop of crème fraîche and a dash of salt and pepper.

Source: Excerpted from “How to Instant Pot” by Daniel Shumski, featured on Mommy Musings blog.

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