Making the best of instant pot

Becky Krystal

THE WASHINGTON POST – Just making a big batch of beans alone is enough for my instant pot to earn its keep.

The pressure cooking feature – valued most for beans, large and small cuts of meats, soups and stews – is what prompts plenty of people to purchase an instant pot or one of the many other multi-cookers on the market. But there are plenty of additional ways to make the most of these appliances, both using the pressure cooker function for less obvious tasks and the other built-in functions you might not have played around with yet. Here’s a rundown of my top picks.

STEAMING

I’m a huge fan of steaming vegetables in the instant pot. I open up Martha Stewart’s Pressure Cooker often, because it has such great reference charts with cook times for various foods (vegetables, grains, beans), so I tend to stick to the strategy listed in there. For one to three pounds of vegetables, it calls for placing three cups of water and one teaspoon coarse salt (such as kosher; use half of that for finer salts) in the bottom of the pot of the multicooker. I then drop my steamer basket in, but you can also use the steamer insert that came with the cooker or just put the vegetables straight into the water.

The cooker will come up to pressure (on high) fairly quickly, and after that, the vegetables will steam rapidly. Then finish with a manual release of the pressure. The timing, anywhere from zero (as in turn off the cooker as soon as it hits pressure) to eight minutes, will vary depending on your desired level of tenderness and the type and size of your produce, with broccoli and cauliflower florets, green beans and chopped potatoes at the lower end and carrots and beets at the higher end.

Instant pot oatmeal. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

You can always err on the lower end and then check. If you need more time, the cooker will almost instantly come back up to pressure after you put the lid back on and seal.

Steaming can be especially handy for quickly prepping small, frozen cuts of meat, which can be placed in the pot straight from the freezer. Most of the time, I’m just doing steamed chicken for my dog!

I usually put in about one cup of water or broth and then set the chicken in the steamer basket over the liquid. Timing depends on size and whether the piece is boneless or not, but prepare for 12-20 minutes. Again, it’s easy to check the temperature and add more time as necessary. You’ll find lots of information on suggested cook times online.

SLOW-COOKING

Yes, multi-cookers are not just for speed. They can serve as a slow-cooker, too, just like the good ol’ Crockpots of yore. Probably other than beans, the thing I do most with my instant pot is use it to make overnight steel-cut oats. I slow-cook them with a three-to-one ratio of water to oats, along with some dried fruit, for eight to 10 hours and leave the “keep warm” setting on, so that when my husband and I wake up, we can dig in whenever we want to a ready-to-eat breakfast.

Any leftovers keep well for a few days and reheat splendidly in the microwave.

A good number of sources that offer pressure-cooked recipes will also include a slow-cook time should you choose to go that route. That makes the process fairly straightforward. However, if you’re hoping to adapt a recipe designed for a traditional slow-cooker to make in a multicooker, it can be a little trickier.

The first step is choosing the right setting. I encourage you to check the recommendations of your particular model. Instant pot, for example, says that on its slow-cook function, Less corresponds to a low (eight-hour) slow-cooker setting; Normal corresponds to a medium (six-hour) slow-cooker setting; and the More mode corresponds to a high (four-hour) slow-cooker setting.

You may also see varying results due to the differences in shape, as slow cookers generally have a larger surface area, and construction, with multicookers featuring one heating element on the bottom and slow-cookers often boasting a band around the side as well.

Slow-cookers allow for the release of more steam, while multicookers, even with the lid vented, tend to hold onto it.

Moreover, as America’s Test Kitchen found, temperatures in some multicookers set to slow-cook can fluctuate significantly, leading to uneven or longer cook times.

These aren’t dealbreakers, but worth keeping in mind as you get to know your appliance and recipes, which you may need to adjust.

MAKING YOGHURT

Also on the low-and-slow end of things: Have you tried the yoghurt setting on your multicooker?

USING IT AS AN EXTRA BURNER

Multi-cookers are equipped with a saute or sear function, meaning you can use them as you would a pot or skillet on a traditional stovetop.

That can come in handy when your cooktop is full, or you can’t (kitchen renovation) or won’t turn it on. Be sure to take into account that the pan surface area is likely to be smaller than some of your pots or skillets and that multi-cookers can run hot, meaning you should pay attention to and adjust the heat as needed. If something starts to burn, you may be treated to an alarm and automatic shut-off. If you think you’ll be trying recipes that need to be cooked with a lid on or ajar, consider purchasing a glass lid to fit your multi-cooker or repurposing one you already have that matches the size. That will help you monitor your food and allow for better escape of steam.

SATISFYING YOUR SWEET TOOTH

Crisp, golden desserts are not going to happen in your multi-cooker. Instead, as cookbook author Jessie Sheehan wrote for us, focus on items that benefit from cooking with steam: “The instant pot excels at ‘baking up’ luscious, custards and puddings, cakes with a dense, moist crumb; think sticky toffee pudding or dense ‘snacking cakes’ (since the IP only ‘bakes’ a single layer of cake at a time anyway, it is perfect for snack cake-making), creme brulee, rice pudding, flan, clafoutis, chocolate pots de crème, lemon pudding cake, and.. cheesecake and bread pudding.” As she pointed out, desserts contained in a seven-inch cake pan work well, as do those you can make in individual ramekins.