History of the Pressure Cooker
The pressure cooker has been around since 1679 and was invented by french physicist, Denis Papin. It allows the liquid to reach boiling causing the pressure and the temperature to rise in an airtight pot. This process reduces the cooking time and helps in adding moisture to food, especially meat.
New users are intimidated by the pressure cooker because of the possibility of an explosion. These scenarios are not common and generally caused by misuse of the pressure cooker. The pressure cooker should not be opened unless the pressure has been released! One way I read this explained was using the example of a can of soda. If the soda was scalding hot and the can was shook violently, what would happen if you opened it without letting the soda settle? It would spray all over the place and be extremely harmful to whoever was nearby.
Benefits of the Instant Pot
The biggest benefit that I have experienced is how quickly the food cooks and that I can preset a time for the cooking process. Traditional pressure cookers had to be timed and didn’t have some of the safety features the Instant pot and other electric pressure cookers have now. The electric pressure cookers allow you to choose preset or manual cook times.
My husband got me the Instant Pot more than a year ago at a black friday sale and it sat in my kitchen for a few weeks. Like any appliance it took a bit of effort to read up and follow the instructions before getting acquainted. In retrospect, I am not sure why I was so nervous! Over the last year I have compiled a few things about the Instant Pot that I found to be helpful. After many successes and some fails it is fair to say that this is a great appliance to have. However, with these simple tips and trick, the Instant Pot may not seem as daunting to new users.
Tips and Tricks
Keep hands/face away when releasing pressure
Since the pot has been building up pressure during the cooking process, when you vent the pressure it comes out in a force of steam for a while. This steam will continue to release till the pressure indicator is off (in the Instant pot this is a little red valve that falls down). During the release of the steam make sure you do not put your hand or face close to it since it can be extremely hot. Alternatively, you can also use an oven mitt to turn the venting knob.
Do NOT open the lid until the pressure has been released.
When you use the pressure cook option on the Instant pot you HAVE to make sure the pressure is released. The first way is by turning the knob to vent and release the pressure manually. Secondly, in some cases like cooking meat, it is suggested to let the pressure naturally release. This means you do not vent the pressure manually and that the pressure will reduce as the pot cools. The natural release option may take about 15 to 20 minutes. Do NOT force the lid open.
Do NOT place the Instant Pot on the stove top
It is often tempting to place the Instant Pot on the flat stove top. However, there have been many instances where users have mistakenly switched the stove on while the Instant Pot is placed on it. This led to the bottom of the Instant Pot melting and the appliance being rendered useless.
Do NOT have the cord hanging of the countertop
As a precaution make sure the Instant Pot is not by the edge of the counter while it cooks as the cord can hang off the counter. This can pose a danger to a household with children. Also keeping it out of your way as you cook can prevent you pulling it off the counter accidently.
Do not place the Instant Pot under a kitchen cabinet when releasing steam
While venting the pressure there is a steady release of steam. If the pressure is released under wooden cabinets, it may cause water damage from the steam. Ideally, turn the stream of pressure away from cabinets or any low hanging light fixtures.
Instant Pot says ‘burn’!
One of the biggest concerns that most new users have is when they see the word ‘burn’ on the Instant Pot display. Basically, the pot has a sensor that shuts the pot off incase the food is burning.
The main reason the burn warning comes up is because there isn’t enough liquid in the pot to bring it to pressure. So always ensure there is at least 1/2 a cup of liquid before using the pressure cook option. The instruction manual has suggested amounts for different ingredients.
The second reason that this warning comes up is because after sauteing in the pot there are still bits of food stuck to the bottom. The easiest way to prevent this is to use liquid and scrape the bottom of the pan gently using a wooden spatula. The ‘burn’ warning also shows up when cooking with recipes that require a good amount of tomatoes, for example, chili. To prevent this from happening, place the tomatoes as the last ingredient into the pot and do NOT stir.
If you come across the ‘burn’ scenario, release the pressure on the Instant Pot and carefully take the ingredients out of the pot. Then wash the pot focusing on the bottom. Next you can try to pressure cook the ingredients again after you correct the reason for the ‘burn’ warning.
Heating the liquid before adding it to the pot
The Instant Pot takes time to build pressure, so make sure you accomodate 10 to 15 minutes for this. I found that I was able to shorten the time by heating up the liquid before pouring it into the pot.
The sealing ring inside the lid of the pot tends to retain the smell of whatever has been cooked. Always store the lid facing up so that the sealing ring is exposed to air. I found that running the ring in the dishwasher took some of the smell out. I have also soaked it in hot water, vinegar and some dish soap. The best thing to do is to have one ring for savory and one for sweet meals.
Saute and then cook
My favorite part of the Instant pot is that you can actually saute and then continue to pressure cook your meal. For example, you can sear a pot roast before you pressure cook it, saving you one extra pan to wash. Make sure the pot says ‘hot’ when using the Instant Pot to sear as this prevents the food from sticking to the bottom as much. You can also choose from less, normal and high to increase the heat level on the saute option by pushing the saute button again. I use the high on the saute option to caramelize my onions but I do not leave the pot unattended as it can burn quickly.
The instant pot requires liquid to come to pressure and it also doesn’t let the steam escape during the cooking process. So you may find that your end dish is a bit more watery/saucier than you would like. The easiest way to thicken the dish is to add a cornstarch slurry at the end.
Hopefully these tips and tricks help you feel more comfortable with your new Instant pot or electric pressure cooker. Remember, there is a learning curve and once you are familiar, you will learn to love this new appliance.
If you would like to read my initial views on the Instant pot, check this post that I wrote last year – Unboxing the Instant Pot.
Are you looking for some recipes to try in your new Instant pot? Take a look at these – Instant Pot Recipes