I was a skeptic about the Instant Pot a while back, writing a post to compare it to a stovetop pressure cookers, like the Fagor Duo. Which should you buy? It all depends! I’m still on the fence about it but now I own an Instant Pot. I have been using it along with the Fagor Duo for about six months.
It all started when Hunter Lewis, the editor in chief of Cooking Light, asked me to review the Instant Pot for my column in the magazine. They bought me one from Amazon and after it arrived, I set it aside in my kitchen for a few days, not wanting it to take up space on my counter. Then I opened it and took it for a test drive. It was quite an experience at my house, detailed in my October 2017 article at Cooking Light.
Gearing up for the test drive, I bought cookbooks with titles like Instant Pot Obsession. I reached out to Instant Pot friends like Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo, Coco Morante, who’s just released The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook, and Cheryl Sterman Rule, author of a yogurt cookbook and someone I trusted for pressure cooker yogurt instructions. I was a newbie and wanted to learn. Michelle clued me in that the Instant Pot people call it the “I.P.”. Got the lingo.
The IP instructions book is strangely written and has an unusual Asian bent to it. Chinese engineers in Canada built the IP, which is why there’s a recipe for fermented rice in the IP cookbook that also came in the box. I appreciate the Asian nod and modern multicooker promise to take care of your many kitchen needs. For people with small spaces, like dorm rooms and tiny houses, the IP may be a godsend.
In my case, I don’t own an electric rice cooker because I adore the fragrance of rice cooking on the stove and I don’t have counter space for a rice cooker. But the IP had a “Rice” function and that got me very curious.
The first time out, my jasmine rice with a 1:1 ratio of water (as instructed by the IP cookbook) was oddly wet around the rim and underneath. It cooked unevenly. I turned it into chao (jook, congee) by adding broth and water, then cooking it on high pressure for about 8 minutes. The IP is weird because after you hit “Rice”, the thing kinda thinks about how much material is in the pot. The timer will say “12” and then soon (less than 2 minutes later) may change to “10” or some number. It’s smart technology working.
How could Asians promise a rice cooker that didn’t deliver? I ventured onto chat rooms, Facebook pages, and websites to discover that IP users obsess about little tweaks — culinary hacks, to make the machine work for them.
I’m not great with electric cooking appliances and one time, I moved the IP while it was working on a batch of rice via the “Rice” function. The pot’s pressure release valve sputtered for a few seconds and I had to clumsily turn the knob-like valve back without getting hot steam in my hand.
The upshot to my mistake was this: the rice got moved around in the pot and the uneven cooking was mitigated. As a bonus, I also got a whiff of the rice cooking. That made total sense because when I cook a pot of rice on the stove, I stir the grains around to facilitate even cooking. I do that at the front end when the grains haven’t yet released too much starch to stick together. If you listen closely to the IP, it makes more noise at the front end as it’s building pressure but that wouldn’t move the grains around because pressure cookers never boil.
Below a batch from today. I’d released the pressure about five times trying to get the steam shot above and the rice grains were still fine. I tell you this because there’s a certain level of flexibility in the machine.
So I took it upon myself to move the grains: I began releasing the pressure on purpose — once or twice, counting to 5 or 10 each time. Ah-hah! The IP made better rice, grains that there on the on the chewy-tender side instead of tender-mushy side. Issue number one was dealt with.
The second issue had to do with the ratio of rice to water. The IP instruction book recommends a 1:1 ratio of raw rice to water, but then it hedges and says you should figure it out yourself. Well, after many failed batches that were turned into creamy rice soup, I figured that with supermarket jasmine rice like Mahatma (it’s gotten much better than years ealier!) — I should use 1 part raw rice to 1 cup less 1 tablespoon water. (In a regular pot, I use 1 cup raw rice to 1 ¼ cup water.)
I wash the rice and drain it before adding to the pot for the actual cooking. That way, I know I have fresh tasting grains and the right amount of water.
For quick-cooking brown jasmine rice, I settled on straight 1:1 ratio of raw rice to water; I use a ratio 1 cup raw rice to 1 1/3 cups water when making that kind of rice in a regular pot. More on brown jasmine rice here.
Another issue was the resting period. I let the pot completely depressurize naturally. If I’m nearby, I’ll turn the pot off to kill the power. Once the IP has depressurized, the rice can sit there for a while (I’ve gone out for a 1 1/2 hour-long walk after doing my pressure release deal and the rice was fine).
I like to fluff the rice to rotate the grains while the pot is still warm, then let it rest to finish cooking. Just like in a regular pot, the grains develop better texture and flavor after a 10-minute post-fluffing rest in the IP. Then I re-fluff before serving.
In summary, this is what I do to make great rice in the Instant Pot: (1) use about 25 percent less water than what I usually use in a regular pot; (2) release pressure once or twice during cooking; (3) let the IP fully depressurize naturally; and (4) fluff, rest and re-fluff before serving.
The time saving isn’t huge in the IP versus a regular pot on the stove. The difference is with the IP, I can push a few buttons, release the pressure valve once or twice, then walk away.
Sometimes “set-it-and-forget-it” is nice. The current Amazon price is great on the Instant Pot so if you want to a pressure cooker or multicooker, get an IP. The one I have is the IP Duo60. It’s basic and works fine for my needs.
All that said, I would not have figured out how to make rice the way I like it had I not known how to cook a perfect pot of rice on the stove. Before leaping into appliance cooking, it’s good to master the basic so you have benchmarks and are nimble enough to figure out to manipulate the machines to meet your personal needs.
Do you have IP hacks or stories? I’ll be posting more in the future (because it’s fun to push all those buttons and hear the beeps) but please share yours!