The One Thing No One Tells You About Cooking In an Instant Pot

I had to drop this habit to make Instant Pot cooking work for me.

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August 15, 2019

The Instant Pot blasted onto the scene, stealing the Prime Day spotlight and winning the number one place on holiday shopping lists. In four years, more than five million of these multi-cooking gadgets have been snapped up by home cooks with zeal, myself inlcuded.

To be perfectly transparent, I’ve never really used a slow cooker — I’m more of a last-minute fridge cleanout cook — and I usually shy away from gimmicky gadgets. But the Instant Pot promised to cook a whole chicken in 24 minutes and make steel-cut oats in 3 minutes. How could I say no to that?

So four months ago, I sealed the deal on a less-than-$100-dollar-dream-maker machine and promptly began fantasizing about the homemade yogurt and melt-in-your-mouth short ribs I would make (even on a busy weeknight).

But there is one BIG thing no one mentions when preaching from the Instant Pot pulpit: how much you’ll miss the sights and smells of cooking.

I cook a lot. It’s my job. And when I cook at home for myself, I’m usually just winging it, relying on the scent of toasting spices and color of the vegetables tossing in the pan to guide me. Not so fast with the Instant Pot. With the Instant Pot, you add your food, seal the lid and press a button, literally blocking your senses from enjoying any part of the cooking process. All it took was one very messed up improvised pasta dish (hint: always add the pasta on top of the sauce in your Instant Pot), and I suddenly I found myself clinging to recipes.

Once I got the hang of it, I came to terms with the reality of Instant Pot cooking. It’s not always that intuitive and it’s not sensory — it’s based on math and science. You must say goodbye to sneaking tastes of bubbling sauces and getting a good whiff of mingling spices in your favorite curry. Instead, you are challenged to prepare your meal in your mind — thinking through quantities and method — before you seal it off from flavor and temperature adjustments. Since you can’t see if the sauce has reduced too much or if the pasta is starting to stick, you have to cook dinner with a baker’s precision, really taking the time to consider what will happen to the overall dish under pressure when you add this ingredient or that.

It’s not the gestural cooking I’m used to, but the Instant Pot has found a place in my routine. Even if I miss the sights and smells of a pot of slowly stewing collard greens, I haven’t yet packed it away because it offers the benefit of something else: time. The time to cook dishes I wouldn’t usually bother making on a weeknight, and more time to spend at the table. And for that, this strange-looking kitchen robot has earned a permanent home on my countertop.

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