By Rebecca Ley for the Daily Mail
Published: 17:17 EST, 3 January 2018 | Updated: 04:54 EST, 4 January 2018
Traditionally, the worst gift a husband can give his wife is a domestic appliance. But this year, many women will have been disappointed not to find an Instant Pot waiting for them under the Christmas tree.
The multi-purpose electric pressure cooker — which claims to cook a whole chicken in just 15 minutes — sold out everywhere in Europe over the festive season.
It’s not hard to see why. The Instant Pot is a hybrid pressure cooker, rice cooker, slow cooker, yoghurt-maker and it can even defrost frozen food quickly, too.
It arrived in the UK only three years ago but already has a cult following — there’s an Instant Pot Facebook group that boasts a million followers, many calling themselves ‘potheads’.
Costing £115, it works using steam just like old-fashioned stovetop pressure cookers, which have been around since the 17th century.
Rebecca Ley (pictured) tested a selection of the UK's most popular electric cookers against each other and compared the results of cooking different dishes with the coveted Instant Pot
Essentially, a pressure cooker is a sealed pot. As you start to cook, the liquid in the pot turns to steam but is unable to escape through the seal, so the pressure in the pot increases.This has two effects. First, it increases the boiling point of the water in the pot. Normally, water boils at 100c, but water under high pressure can reach temperatures of up to 120c while still liquid so your food will cook more quickly.
Second, the high pressure forces the cooking liquid into your food, so it becomes very tender.
Traditional pressure cookers simply heat up on the stove until a certain pressure is reached inside, at which point a safety valve will let off some of the steam to prevent an explosion. But the Instant Pot comes with a built-in electric heating element, a series of high-tech temperature and pressure sensors, and a microprocessor — like a mini-computer — allowing you to control the cooking process very precisely using a digital touchscreen on the pot, or an app on your phone.
As a result, it can be used for almost any recipe as long as there’s liquid involved in the cooking process.
The pot was invented in 2010 by Dr Robert Wang, a Canadian computer expert who had worked on the earliest smartphones and wanted to apply the same technology in the kitchen. His company, Double Insight, is privately owned and doesn’t release its sales figures — but these have more than doubled every year since 2011.
Meanwhile, several rivals are snapping at Instant Pot’s heels, with total sales of ‘electric multicookers’ rising 79 per cent globally last year to more than $300 million (£221 million), according to market research by NPD Group.
The pot consists of an inner steel cooking pot and an outer bowl that houses the heating element and those clever sensors. It looks a bit like the slow cookers popular in the Seventies — but it’s anything but slow.
To cook food, you put your ingredients in the inner bowl with some water, put the lid on and twist its handle to seal the pot. Finally, you select a function and cooking time on the digital display.
So far, so simple. But is it the time-saving champion it claims to be? REBECCA LEY put the Instant Pot through its paces and also tested its main rivals . . .
Rebecca says the conventional pressure cooker from Morphy Richards was able to cook a whole chicken within ten minutes, making it quicker than the Instant Pot
I rubbed a small chicken with salt and herbs, then put it in the inner pot along with some oil.
I used the ‘saute’ function, which heats only the base of the pot, to brown the bird, before adding a cup of water (around 240ml), some cloves of garlic and lemon juice.
I then used the display to select 15 minutes — and held my breath.
VERDICT: I couldn’t believe that the chicken, which would take at least an hour to cook in my gas oven, would be done. But it was, although you do have to wait five minutes for the pot to reach the right pressure. Much moister than roast chicken, the meat was practically falling off the bone.
My daughter Isobel, seven, loved it. It wasn’t exactly a roast chicken, but it was delicious.
While jackets aren’t exactly high maintenance, you do have to sling them in the oven an hour before you need them. For the Instant Pot, I scrub the potatoes as normal. I put a cup of water in the inner pot, then insert the steam rack which comes with the pot. I place the potatoes in a ceramic bowl on top of this rack, and set them for 20 minutes.
Rebecca says although the Instant Pot made bolognese quicker than her usual method, she preferred the taste of her traditional method
VERDICT: These are quick but don’t taste anywhere near as good as oven-baked potatoes — the skin isn’t crispy enough. Some Instant Pot fans recommend oven-baking them for ten minutes after they have been pressure-cooked, but that makes the whole process more bothersome than my usual technique.
GAMMON IN 18 MINS
I put a cup of water in the inner pot, then sit my gammon joint on the ‘trivet’ that comes with the cooker. Like the steam rack, this small wire rack sits above the liquid. I pressure cook the 700g joint for 18 minutes, followed by ‘natural release’ — you can wait for the pressure inside the pot to come down on its own. This takes about 20 minutes, during which time the contents continue to cook slowly in the residual heat.
VERDICT: I doubt the meat will be cooked through — but it is wonderfully tender. The water in the inner pot has also formed a salty stock that would be good for soup.
I rinse 240g of quinoa, add it to the inner pot with 260ml of water, and pressure cook it for one minute.
VERDICT: This is a revelation. When I open the lid I find a pile of fluffy quinoa, something I have never achieved when cooking the grain on the hob. And it was so quick — though slightly longer than one minute once you factor in the five minutes it took the pot to reach optimum pressure.
Rebecca says the water in the Instant Pot when making gammon would be perfect for soup
Making hummus at home usually means soaking dried chickpeas the night before. The Instant Pot means you can skip this stage.
I put 450g of chickpeas into the pot, cover with two inches of water, then cook for two minutes. Next I discard the water, add fresh and repeat the process. Finally I drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor, adding tahini, cumin, garlic and lemon juice.
VERDICT: Not having to soak pulses overnight is hugely convenient. But it didn’t impress my most important critic. Felix, my four-year-old son, normally loves hummus but he pronounced this ‘disgusting’.
I start off by melting 25g butter in the Instant Pot, then add 100g pudding rice, 40g golden sugar, 700ml whole milk, a cinnamon stick and the zest of half a lemon. I bring the contents to a simmer before fitting the lid and selecting 12 minutes cooking time.
Once it’s done, I opt for ‘natural release’ which takes another 20 minutes, so the rice keeps cooking. Finally, I simmer to thicken.
VERDICT: This is a truly delicious, cinnamon-scented pudding and Felix loved it as much as I did.
Rebecca was impressed with the results of making quinoa in the Instant Pot
With young children, I often make porridge for breakfast. I add oats and milk to the inner pot and set the pressure cooking time to four minutes. Once it’s done, I choose ‘natural release’, so the total time is around 25 minutes. I remove the lid and add a splash more milk before serving.
VERDICT: ‘This is much nicer than your usual porridge,’ says my seven-year old critic, Isobel. And she was right — this tastes like the soft, delicious porridge my mum cooks in her Aga.
In a jug, I mix chicken stock with tomato puree, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
In the pot, I saute 400g minced beef in olive oil for around four minutes before removing.
I add more oil and saute a chopped onion, garlic, a celery stalk and some chopped white mushrooms. Then I add the stock mixture and browned beef along with 300g of spaghetti — a bit tricky as you either have to break the spaghetti in half, or wait until it wilts enough to bend it into the pot. I pressure cook the lot for six minutes.
VERDICT: I would normally have a bolognese simmering for at least 40 minutes, so this was quicker. But it tasted quite different from my usual bolognese — and I prefer my own.
Jessica says the Pressure King Pro Chrome 5L 12-in-1 Digital Pressure Cooker (pictured) produced similar results as the Instant Pot when making stew
First, I fill two glass jars with milk and blast them for a couple of minutes in the pot to sterilise. I opt for natural release, wait for the pot to cool, then remove the jars. They should be warm to the touch.
I stir a teaspoonful of our usual (expensive) Yeo Valley live yoghurt into each jar as a starter, then put them back in the pot and select the ‘yoghurt’ function. This takes eight hours, so I leave it overnight, coming down to two large jars of yoghurt in the morning.
VERDICT: It’s like magic — and, given the amount of yoghurt we consume as a family, it would save us serious money. The yoghurt was slightly tarter than our usual, but still tasted good.
TESTING THE REST
The Instant Pot isn’t the only electric pressure cooker on the market. I tried some of its rivals, cooking a classic beef stew to see how they compete. In the Instant Pot this dish is a cinch — you saute your onion and brown your meat in the pot before switching to the ‘Meat/Stew’ function, which takes 30 minutes.
The result is a stew that tastes as though it has been slow-cooked for hours.
Tower Pro T16008 6L One Pot Express 14-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker with Smoker, (£80, amazon.co.uk)
This looks like the Instant Pot’s slightly flimsier little sister. As well as a pressure cooker, it comes with a bag of wood-chips, so you can smoke a variety of foods.
However, unlike the Instant Pot, where you use a saute function to brown meat before switching to pressure cooking, with this one you have to brown your meat on the hob first. You then cook the stew for 30 minutes. The end result was good.
Rebecca rated Tower Pro T16008 6L One Pot Express one of the lowest of all the Instant Pot rivals as meat needed to be browned on the hob before putting into the cooker
Bella Multi-Function Electric 6 Litre Pressure and Slow Cooker (£49.99, amazon.co.uk).
This is significantly cheaper than the Instant Pot and you can brown and cook in the same pot. It has the slow-cooking and keep warm function of the Instant Pot.
However, the delay timer is only two hours, meaning you couldn’t set it in the morning to start dinner shortly before you came home from work, in comparison to the Instant Pot’s 24 hours. The stew took 30 minutes and came out well. A good, affordable option.
Pressure King Pro Chrome 5L 12-in-1 Digital Pressure Cooker (£59.99, argos.co.uk)
This has a browning function in the pot, although it only lasts three minutes, but you can repeat it. There is also a stew programme and a 24-hour delay timer, but no yoghurt-making function. The stew took 30 minutes and the results were good — much like the Instant Pot. A worthy rival.
Sage by Heston Blumenthal The Fast Slow Pro 6L Multi & Slow Cooker (£159.99, lakeland.co.uk)
An expensive piece of kit. This doesn’t have a yoghurt-making function, but in every other respect it does what an Instant Pot does and looks a bit classier, although its brushed steel does mean that it shows up every fingerprint. The stew, however, came out perfectly.
AND FINALLY . . . THE CONVENTIONAL PRESSURE COOKER
Morphy Richards Pressure Cooker 6L (£69.95, amazon.co.uk)
Much lighter than electric versions, you can stow this in a cupboard, saving you on space.
It takes a while on the hob to reach the required cooking pressure, but it can cook a whole chicken in an astonishingly quick ten minutes — even faster than the Instant Pot.
I blasted my stew for just 20 minutes and it was perfectly tender. But by nature of being on the stovetop you can’t leave it unattended and forget about it — which is one of the main joys of the Instant Pot.
It’s also obviously not such a multi-tasker and doesn’t have the keep-warm or slow-cook functions of the Instant Pot.
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