Alternately titled: No, Instant Pot recipe writers and bloggers, it is NOT “just 20 minutes and done!” and you need to stop saying that.
(Second alternative title: this post is in no way about parenting, but this has been bothering me for months now and has to be said.)
For those who don’t know, the Instant Pot has recently become the generic trademark (aka, when a brand becomes synonymous with the item, such as “Kleenex” for “tissues”) in the world of electric pressure/multi-cookers. Whereas traditional pressure cookers heat up on the stove and give me massive amounts of fear of exploding and killing us all, electric pressure cookers (supposedly) have multiple failsafes that supposedly don’t allow the whole “exploding pressure cooker” thing to happen. So basically: the Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that has taken the world by storm in the past year.
I’ve had my 8-quart Instant Pot for about 8 months now, which is long enough to have gotten used to the machine, tested it with multiple recipes and types of foods, and have cooked enough in it to finally need to call shenanigans on pretty much every Instant Pot recipe blogger out there.
Shenanigans, I say.
And here is where they go wrong: they never, ever, ever include the time it actually takes to come to and off of pressure in their recipes. And that, my friends, is a grotesquely misleading oversight.
Now, technically, while under pressure, the food cooks about twice as fast as it would on the stove or in the oven, which is supposed to save time and make it possible to do things like 3-hour sauces in a fraction of the time. On a weeknight, say. This is the claim.
The thing is, though, the Instant Pot needs a lot of time to actually get to pressure. Often it’s more time than the actual cook time. Then once it finishes cooking and you need it to come out of pressure in order to, you know, access the food, it takes a long time to do that, too, whether you let it “naturally” come down, or “manually release” it, which means switching the vent open and kickstarting the depressurization all at once. (It would be physically impossible to open a pressurized lid before it has come off pressure. And also that would potentially do something bad like kill you, even if you could.) However, in almost every single Instant Pot recipe I’ve ever read, there is not one estimate of extra time around the pressurized cook time.
So this is my plea to every single blogger out there: you have to adjust your time estimates in recipes to include the pressurization and depressurization times.
Currently Instant Pot recipe writers tend to say something like, “…select manual pressure for 35 minutes, and then allow to naturally release for 10 minutes and then manually release the rest, and then enjoy!”
That’s not how that actually works, though. When I put everything into the Instant Pot to pressure cook, at minimum it takes about 10 minutes to come to pressure with the minimum amount of liquid necessary to make it work (1 cup of water, say). If it’s a big stew or soup or something, that process can take 20-30 more minutes! Then depressurization takes at a minimum 5 minutes with a natural release, or 20 minutes with a full natural release of a big soup or stew. So that “cook time” of 35 minutes doesn’t include: 20 minutes of pressurization or 10-15 minutes of depressurization. That means that “35 minute meal” actually is cooking for about an hour.
Time saver? Ehhh…maybe.
And yes, once the food is all in the Instant Pot, it’s in. It’s hands-off. But oftentimes you have to pre-cook some things, sear some others, or do general prep that you’d do with a non-Instant Pot recipe. So really, I’m not sure the time saving is great when you actually break it down. Here are a few examples of recipes I’ve actually made.
My point isn’t that Instant Pot recipe bloggers aren’t doing a very cool thing. My point isn’t that they aren’t working hard to help others put food on the table. My point isn’t that their food is bad – quite the opposite, in fact. My point is that recipe writers have to start including the amount of time it takes to come to pressure and depressurize while writing these recipes to give an accurate account of how much time these recipes will take. And I’ve heard, “well it takes time to boil water if you’re cooking on the stove, and recipes never take that into account!” Which is true. Except…you can still do other prep things while you’re boiling water on the stove. With the Instant Pot, there is no other option than just wait. So it’s really not the same thing at all.
Now, you might think I hate my Instant Pot, and the truth is I don’t. I’m just not as wild about it as other people are. But to be fair, here’s where the Instant Pot really excels and can’t be beat:
- Hard-boiled eggs. My 1-year-old can devour hard-boiled eggs and cooking them in a pressure cooker actually separates the shells from the egg in a way that boiling does not, which leads to perfectly peel-able eggs every time.. The time isn’t that different than the old-fashioned way, but the peeling of the eggs and their absolute perfection every time is fantastic.
- Baby back bibs. These were the first things I made in the Instant Pot and I will never achieve fall-off-the-bone ribs like this in my oven. They finish in the oven with the barbecue sauce, yes, but since there’s only a cup of water to pressurize this one’s timing does make sense.
- Frozen chicken breasts. I don’t know any other method that allows me to safely cook frozen chicken breasts straight from the freezer, which I can then put into my mixer/use my hand mixer to shred in a matter of 1 minute once they’re cooked.
Look, I can see where I’m coming off as harsh on the Instant Pot and its hardworking food blogger devotees, and I don’t mean to. I think it’s a cool machine, and I really do appreciate all the hard work recipe writers are putting into making its complicated buttons and gizmos accessible to all of us with delicious food. I just think we need to be honest about the timing of this machine. We’ve been too busy trying to convince ourselves that we can pressure cook anything that we aren’t asking ourselves if, maybe, a lot of these things would be better off the old fashioned way.
It’s a simple solution, recipe writers. Instead of listing just “prep” and “cook” times, include another line called “Pressure/Depressure” and add that number to the total amount of time needed for a recipe. You’ve done your job on selling us on the Instant Pot, and now it’s time to be honest about how long these things take.