One of my favorite moments on “The Simpsons” was when Homer watched Marge leaving on a train, and he called out, “How do I use the pressure cooker?” and she answered, “Don’t!” – it underscored my own deep-seated conviction that pressure cookers were beyond the safe grasp of ordinary mortals. So, it was with giddy trepidation that I purchased an Instant Pot last winter. An electric pressure cooker, it is supposed to be simpler and safer to use than traditional models. Yet, like a traditional pressure cooker, it reduces cooking time drastically, producing fully-cooked meats that are moist and evenly done. Soups containing carrots and potatoes can be whipped up in no time with the Instant Pot. It quickly renders soft the root vegetables that might otherwise take hours of conventional simmering. As a kitchen device, it is versatile and easy to clean up. I’m glad I bought it but have to admit that – despite what enthusiastic foodie bloggers will tell you – it is all-too-often not the best choice depending on the dish you’re making.
Minestrone, for example, is one of my favorite soups and I make it all the time. The Instant Pot can make a mighty fine minestrone, one that rivals the stove top version. Other soups, notably those that include coconut milk or heavy cream, turn out discolored and curdled-looking. That doesn’t stop eager Instant Pot aficionados from insisting that you should use it to make such dishes and I think they’re coming from one of three places. Either these cook-bloggers are living in tiny apartments (where conventional cooking can overheat one’s living space), or they’re always against the clock and can’t devote the time every recipe needs, or they’re such penny-pinchers that they’re going to justify the device’s purchase by cooking with nothing else. There is an endless supply of bad Instant Pot recipes out there, offered up by people who are more interested in saving time than in eating well.
That isn’t to say I don’t love it. During the holidays it’s an excellent way to maximize cooking time when you have several recipes to prepare at once. And you can’t beat the Instant Pot when it comes to cooking dry beans. It saves the day when you realize you forgot to thaw chicken for dinner. If you live where summers are brutal, the Instant Pot is the perfect way to have hot dinner without also having a hot house. But common sense should dictate what you use it for. Cream-based soups belong on the stove top. Any dish you’re unfamiliar will be more forgiving with the conventional oven which lets you test and tinker. Anything you would normally bake will turn out better in a traditional oven. (Baking doesn’t have a lot of mercy to throw yourself upon, but what little is has lies in the opportunity to peek in and adjust the remaining baking time.)