Last year I impulse bought the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker in a Black Friday sale. Fast forward nearly a year and my Instant Pot pressure cooker has become one of my most regularly used kitchen appliances.
So what does a pressure cooker do?
How ‘instant’ is the Instant Pot?
Is it worth buying an instant pot if you’re vegan?
Read on and I’ll answer all these questions and more!
Note that this post focuses on the Instant Pot Duo 5.7ltr. This is simply because that’s the model that I own and have thoroughly tested. All electric pressure cookers work to the same basic principles though so hopefully this helps even if you buy a different make or model.
A pressure cooker is a sealed pot with a valve in the lid. When the valve is sealed and the pot heats up it produces a build up of steam pressure using the liquids inside. This creates a boiling point of up to 250 degrees Farhenheit, which is much higher than the 212 degrees F that can be reached on the stove. As a result cook times can be considerably faster.
The high pressure also forces the liquid ingredients in the pot into the solid ones, so it’s a great way to speedily infuse flavour and tenderise ingredients.
No… but please don’t let that put you off. Let me explain how it all works.
Once you have added all of your ingredients to the instant pot, sealed it and set it to pressure cook for say, 15 minutes, you’ll find that this countdown doesn’t begin immediately. First your pressure cooker needs to build up the steam required. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to 15 depending on the temperature and ingredients added to the pot.
The float valve on the lid will pop up once enough pressure has built and only then does the pressure cook begin.
At the end of the pressure cook time many recipes require you to perform a ‘natural release’. This means leaving the sealing valve and pressure cooker lid closed and waiting until the float valve drops down of it’s own accord.
The general guidance for performing a natural release is to wait for around 10 minutes, after which you can then perform a quick release if the float valve hasn’t dropped.
A ‘quick release’ is when you flip the sealing value to open to let the steam out faster. A certain amount of cooking will continue whilst the natural release takes place so I don’t like to skip this step if it’s instructed.
Most recipes that you see tend to state the cooking time once the pressure cooker has reached pressure. They don’t tend to include the time to bring the pot up to pressure, or the pressure release time afterwards.
As a rule of thumb, I’d recommend adding on an extra 20 minutes to any times you see noted on recipes unless they clearly include the reaching/releasing pressure times. This will give you the total time that your meal will take to cook from start to finish.
So if a recipe says to ‘set to pressure cook for 8 minutes and then perform a natural release’, allow for an extra 10 minutes at the beginning for the pot to come to pressure and another 10 minutes at the end for the release. That means that the cook time is really 28 minutes in total, not 8!
TIME SAVING TIP: I like to pre boil any water/stock before adding it to the instant pot as this helps it to reach pressure faster.
One of the things I misunderstood when I bought my instant pot was WHY it was such a time and effort saver. I was purely looking at the overall cook times to start off with and found myself disappointed when I realised that the listed 22 minutes to cook rice meant 42 minutes in reality.
Then I realised that the true time savings are to be had whilst it’s in the cooking cycle.
Once the ingredients are added to the pot and the pressure cooker countdown begins, the cooking process is completely hands off. There’s no stirring, adjusting hob temperatures or juggling multiple pots and pans. You can just leave your food bubbling away and get on with other things. I use the time to prepare any sides, wash up (or load the dishwasher) and set the table. Or I just go and sit down!
Even taking into account the pressure build and release times, the overall cook time is still considerably quicker for lots of common ingredients and recipes.
Most pressure cookers now come with a sautee function built in, so you can save yourself from getting extra pots and pans messy. Most of the time I use this for softening and infusing flavour into my aromats such as garlic, onion and ginger directly in the pot before adding the other ingredients and starting the pressure cook itself.
You can use your instant pot as a steamer too. My model comes with a handled trivet insert. You simply fill the bottom of the inner pot with water and then sit ingredients above it on the trivet.
I find the instant pot perfect for making larger quantities to batch up. My 5.7 litre version comfortably cooks 6 – 8 portions at a time. (Rest assured you can make smaller portions in it too however!)
On a typical Sunday I set the instant pot going on one recipe and use the pressure cook time to tidy up and then prep the ingredients for the next recipe. It makes batch cooking a whole lot more efficient and cuts the washing up considerably.
As the instant pot is a sealed cooker, you can cook delicious meals on warm days without turning your kitchen into a sauna. You can also then go sit down whilst it does its thing instead of having to stand over an open flame to watch your pots!
Absolutely! With it’s ability to speed up the cooking of some vegan wholefood staples as well as maximising flavour, it’s one of my most used appliances. Here are some of the things I love to use my instant pot for:
Dried beans soaked overnight take between 45 minutes and 2 hours to cook on the stove. In a pressure cooker you can reduce this cook time significantly to as little as 8 minutes (plus the 20 minutes mentioned above).
If you forget to soak your beans the day before all is not lost. You can still bung them in the pressure cooker unsoaked and have dinner ready in an hour.
I never would have considered using dried beans before, but have found them much more economical than using pre cooked tins in the long run. For example 100g dried chickpeas will produce about 400g cooked chickpeas, so if you buy a 1kg bag it’ll yield roughly 10 cans worth. You’ll reduce packaging waste, not to mention that they have a better taste and texture.
Dried beans take between 45 minutes and 2 hours to cook on the stove. In a pressure cooker you can reduce this to as little as 8 minutes.
When you cook these on the hob you often need to give them plenty of time bubbling away to infuse all of the flavour. Pressure cooking speeds up this process considerably and the best bit is that you don’t have to watch over the pot and do any stirring. You just set the time and leave it to do the work on its own.
Risotto in the instant pot using white arborio rice takes 8 minutes of pressure cooking time, doesn’t involve any stirring and is truly one of the most magical transformations. I still do a little happy dance every time I open the lid!
I love my wholegrains but varieties such as brown rice, farro and pearl barley can take up to 50 minutes to cook on the hob. Now I batch cook them using the Instant Pot. To make four freezable portions, I pop 200g (1 cup) of brown wholegrain rice in the Instant Pot with 300ml (1 1/4 cups) water or stock in the instant pot for 22 minutes. It cooks the rice to fluffy perfection with no draining required. For a stickier rice, I bump it up to 1 1/2 cups water.
I’ve cooked seitan using many different methods. Steaming it in the pressure cooker is one of the simplest ways I’ve tried and I find that the large pot size helps. I use this recipe which YouTube channel Mary’s Test Kitchen helpfully demonstrates here.
Now let’s take a look at the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker in a bit more detail.
I’ve owned my Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker (5.7 litre) since last November. It’s been a learning process and not everything was successful first time! I’d recommend starting out with online or cookbook tried and tested recipes. These will help you become familiar with the timings and liquid ratios needed for cooking different ingredients.
Even if you’re following a recipe with rave reviews, your instant pot may decide not to play ball! I learned early on that mine tends to like a bit more water than the recipes recommend. I also found that certain ingredients need to be poured on the top rather than mixed in. (Click here or scroll down to see the dreaded burn notice notes below!)
Once you understand what your particular instant pot does and doesn’t do so well, you’ll have more confidence making adjustments. Then you can start to play around, perfect recipes and even come up with your own!
The device weighs 5kg so I need two hands to carry it. You should allow for plenty of storage/counter space; the 5.7 litre version takes up about the same size as a microwave.
The Instant Pot unit itself comprises of three parts:
My model also included some accessories. The steaming rack/trivet has proven useful but the other plastic accessories are still sat in the box. I already had versions of most of them.
The front unit has easy to use touch control buttons. You’re most likely to use the Saute and Pressure Cook function but there are plenty of one touch pre programmed settings built in too.
Some of these can be adjusted, whilst some are ‘smart’ programmes. These ones work according to what the unit senses (such as the Soup and Rice options). There’s even a yoghurt setting! This will allow you to pasteurize and ferment milk into yoghurt, or make fermented glutinous rice (Jiu Niang).
The delayed timer function is another useful function. I can add ingredients to the pot earlier in the day and set in advance when I want cooking to commence.
You should keep the device on a solid, flat surface when in use. This will ensure that the valve stays securely sealed whilst at pressure. It’s important to do this because when the pressure valve is released, even a tiny bit, it will shoot out a volley of super hot steam. I always stand well back for safety and avoid setting it off accidentally.
PRESSURE RELEASE TIP: When performing a quick release I lay a tea towel over the lid, then use the handle of a long wooden spoon to flip the valve open whilst standing well back. Once the initial spurt of steam has calmed down, I remove the tea towel and allow the natural pressure release to continue. I do this to stop my kitchen cupboards getting sprayed.
Sometimes whilst in the cycle, your Instant Pot detects something burning and starts beeping. The ensuing ‘burn’ message displayed still breaks me out in a cold sweat every time!
When you get a burn notice you’re supposed to release the pressure immediately, open the lid, sort out the problem and then start all over again. It’s highly annoying and can add a lot of unwanted extra time and faff to cooking your meal.
I’ve found a few ways to help avoid the burn warning or quickly recover when it happens:
It might take you a bit of trial and error to get to know your Instant Pot. However once you’ve mastered the basics it’s time to have fun! I’m a much more confident these days at judging whether online recipes need tweaking to suit my Instant Pot.
There are plenty of free guides online to basic pressure cook times. You’ll find guides in most pressure cooker recipe books too.