“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
That quote above, attributed to Maslow, is how I feel about the Instant Pot. I used to be content with my cooking. I enjoyed playing with old recipes, modernist (molecular) techniques, and venturing into ethnic groceries for armchair discoveries. The Instant Pot turned that upside down. Suddenly I was facing a new learning curve. You might notice that many of the recipes that come with the Instant Pot are written in Chinese. After all they invented electric pressure cookers. We all know that Chinese take-out doesn’t represent the whole country, but this is mind blowing. There are so many methods besides stir-frying. While reading about the yogurt button I came across a recipe for Niu Jiang. This fermented rice product opened my eyes to Asian cuisines. Niu Jiang is kind of like malted rice, a cousin of Amazake. The starter is a mixture of wild yeast and bacteria. If it is left to continue fermenting it turns into rice wine. The bacteria responsible is known as Koji. It is this koji that makes soy sauce, miso, and sake possible. Jeremy Umansky, a creative chef, has found new uses for koji. Such as rapidly aging steaks and curing cold cuts. Andoni Aduriz from the restaurant Mugaritz has used it on apples. I used to wonder why I needed a yogurt button. Why not just buy yogurt? That sent me down another rabbit hole that deserves its own post. Many countries use pressure cookers prominently in their cuisines. In India, where many people don’t have ovens, they can even bake cakes using salt or sand to distribute the heat.
On social media I saw that people were using Instant Pots in their Semi’s, RV’S, and dorm rooms in unique ways. Instant Pot even has a FaceBook group with over 800,000 members. They have accessorized their IPots with decals and inserts for making cheesecakes, poached eggs, and ribs, to name a few. I posted some of my Sous Vide experiments and received a great response. That is one of the reasons for this blog.
Pressure cooking brings out flavors and textures that would be difficult to achieve with any other method. It requires adjusting the time and liquids to the new environment. One that is faster and lacks evaporation. The Instant Pot is a great electric pressure cooker, but that is only one (a really important one) of the many functions available. Whenever I see a new recipe I ask myself “Can this be done in an Instant Pot?”.
Let’s examine what the Instant Pot has:
Safety mechanisms both electronic and physical
Electric burner (1000w)
Sensors for temperature and pressure
Computer control and feedback
The unfair advantage of the Instant Pot is its smart burner. Unlike a thermostat that just heats until a certain set point, a smart burner times the acceleration by adjusting the power to the task. This is the way we drive cars. Could you imagine a gas pedal only working as “floored” or nothing? This proportionate heating is why the Instant Pot runs so quiet and avoids burning bits on the bottom. It is this computerized control that begs to be “hacked”.
There will be two types of “hacking”:
The first type is to get full use of the “7 in 1” functions by exploring all of the buttons. The user interface is the reason that this feels like hacking. It is like learning Starbucks size names. I have the 6qt. Duo. Other models may have more functions. The recipe booklet that comes with the Instant Pot, as well as recipes by bloggers mainly use the MANUAL button. This is to include people who have stove-top or competing models of electric pressure cookers. Of course this also includes you to a larger world of pressure-cooked recipes.The Instant Pot function buttons have their advantages. I like that the buttons can be set for your favorite recipes. The soup button is great for making a clear stock, while the Chili/Bean function is best for making a “creamy” stock. The goal here is: to get your meal on the table with the least hassle.
Then there is the second type of “Hacking”. This is where GABA rice, shio koji, vanilla extract, and pressure frying are discussed. The Instant Pot can stand in as a prototype machine allowing you to play, before you pay for dedicated equipment. It can mimic a sous vide machine , chocolate temperer , dough proofer , or an essential oil distiller. The most expensive device prototyped on the cheap is the Gastrovac, which was a prototype itself for commercial machines making vacuum fried chips (like Terra®brand). The least expensive and most accessible extra is as a Pressureless steamer for delicate foods. Pressure-less steaming lets you watch and add things while you cook.
Whether you want to play with your food or just cook dinner I hope that you’ll find my post entertaining. Please enjoy the recipes and feel free to contact me with any questions.