Early last year, our Test Kitchen cooks caught wind of the brewing Instant Pot mania, and began to develop a cookbook solely for those who love the appliance and wanted to learn more about how an Instant Pot works. They were pressure-cooking away for weeks, from pot roasts to pancakes, and even the skeptics in the kitchen became fans.
Test Kitchen cook Emily McFarren says, “I’m definitely a skeptic about devices, but this is one where I actually really like it.” She laughed that she’s been responsible for a few of her friends buying Instant Pots, especially after she made pitch-perfect risotto in eight minutes and “couldn’t stop talking about it!” As our cooks gradually all converted to the Church of Instant Pot, they joked that they “needed to set up a cash register in the kitchen,” said McFarren, so folks could buy both the pot and the cookbook at once!
Having had her share of successes (blueberry-pecan cheesecake, anyone?) and failures (nope, pancakes don’t work), McFarren and her crew have pretty much seen it all. Here, the Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen team answers some of your most common Instant Pot questions.
do you wish you knew about an Instant Pot works before you started using it?
I think I wish I knew how versatile it is. It’s used so much for meat but there are so many fun recipes [in the book] for dips and party foods, like the kale-artichoke dip that we did. And you can use it not just for weekday meals but for a dinner party or entertaining.
Do you find yourself using all the different function buttons, or do you have favorites?
I tend to stick with “Sauté” and pressure cooking. Occasionally I’ll use the other buttons. It’s really nice when I’m trying something for the first time. Trying polenta and being able to use the porridge function instead of randomly guessing is really nice. My coworker loves the yogurt function; she developed a yogurt recipe for the book that’s fantastic.
What does the Instant Pot do best?
It cuts down on cooking time. We wrote a pressure cooker book just before this one, and the Instant Pot doesn’t need as much liquid as a pressure cooker; it doesn’t dilute. You can make something without sacrificing flavor or tenderness: I don’t see any difference, taste-wise, in cooking a pork shoulder in the Instant Pot versus in a slow cooker for five to six hours. Brown rice is also amazing to do in there; it always takes forever on the stovetop, and never comes out quite right. I’ll also pull it out for any kind of beef cut, like beef stew or anything like that. My favorite recipe from the book that I keep making is a chicken pozole. It’s so fast and so flavorful and is ready in 35 minutes, all in. Usually you’d have to do low and slow cooking to get those flavors going. That was the first recipe we tested, and we were blown away by how delicious something could be in this crazy device. And you can make tamales in three hours instead of all afternoon and evening!
What doesn’t work in it?
I tried so hard to make pancakes in there and it didn’t work. The texture’s really weird and it just—we got this big fluffy, cakey pancake but we were like, you know, it’s not a happy marriage.
Would you ever make a steak in it?
Probably not. We all in the test kitchen hold steak very sacred so—anything where you want that perfect medium-rare consistency—I’m sure you could do that but it’s not the best use of your Instant Pot and not the best use of your steak.
Is it fair to say the Instant Pot is good at evening out texture and seasoning within a dish?
Definitely. It’s so comparable to a slow cooker in that it’s very consistent and even throughout the dish. With beans, you don’t need to worry about some being tough and others falling apart.
Any tips for getting the most out of it?
Yeah. The biggest tip I would give someone is about when you’re using the sauté function: If you’re going to brown your pork shoulder or sauté onions, let it get really hot. Turn it on and walk away for five minutes. (ED note: But don’t put the lid on during this time, or ever during the sauté function.) The walls are so high it’s easy for it to start steaming instead of searing.
But it gets pretty hot, for a good sear?
Yeah, definitely. I was making carnitas today and got great color on the pork shoulder before adding else in. You can get a good sear on it.
What’s its best time-saving trick?
I think risotto was the recipe where I couldn’t stop talking about the Instant Pot: “I just made risotto in eight minutes!” That’s one where it’s not the most intuitive thing to make, but it was so fast and delicious. The texture was amazing. It turns out really well I think because the liquid’s not evaporating off. It’s in the cookbook! Also, I’m a huge fan of the Instant Pot cheesecake, because it’s so fast. We have a blueberry pecan cheesecake in the book that takes 28 minutes to cook.
Any last final tips?
It’s really easy to do one-pot pasta—pasta and sauce, in one pot, with no fuss. People don’t really think of cooking the pasta in the Instant Pot, but you can do that pretty well in 5 minutes on high pressure, with a natural steam release for 15. We sautéed garlic and onions and added fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic, pasta, and water. You just throw in all the raw ingredients. It’s an easy, easy weeknight dinner. It blew us away. (And it’s in the book!)