Amanda Colodonato

Amanda Colodonato shows pernil, a Spanish roasted pork, made in her multifunctional Cosori cooker on the countertop behind her. Instant Pots and other brands of this appliance are wildly popular -- and fans explain why. 

We have a laid-off Canadian software engineer to thank for the Instant Pot.

Robert Wang and his team spent more than a year perfecting the appliance — part pressure cooker, part slow cooker, part all-around multicooking device — before releasing the first version to market in 2010.

In two years, the company was profitable. Sales have doubled every year since 2011. And in 2017, even before the Christmas shopping season began, sales for Instant Pot and other multicookers had grown by nearly 80 percent, according to data company NPD, topping $300 million.

And that’s just with social media and word-of-mouth “advertising.” Having nearly 1.5 million followers in Facebook’s official Instant Pot community (bit.ly/InstaOnFB) sharing recipes for everything from cheesecake to wine doesn’t hurt, either.

But is a multicooker worth a price tag of about $70 and up, depending on the brand and model? What’s the secret to its popularity?

“It’s almost foolproof,” says Amanda Colodonato. “It can help people who aren’t super confident in the kitchen achieve new culinary successes.”

Colodonato, of Narvon, is a food writer and blogger at Crafty Cooking Mama (craftycookingmama.com).

Her multicooker — a Cosori-brand 7-in-1 appliance — earned a permanent spot in her kitchen after it proved itself just once.

“I figured I’d put it to the true test (in its) first use,” Colodonato says. So out came the recipe for one of her favorite meals: pernil, or Spanish pork roast. It’s one of those meals that typically take a lot of time, she says, with a day of marinating and half a day of cooking.

“I pulled it off in the (multicooker), start to finish, in under two hours,” Colodonato says. “It was a glorious moment.”

At its most basic, the multifunctional appliance will serve as a pressure cooker and slow cooker, bake items, saute, boil and steam. An advanced model can sterilize objects, rewarm foods, connect to Bluetooth, adjust for altitude and recalibrate itself depending on the volume of food being cooked.

“There are so many functions,” says Colodonato, who has been using hers at least twice a week. “I do a lot of ‘throw together’ (kinds of) dinners with it. A protein, seasonings, a sauce or liquid (and) cook.”

She used to use her slow cooker to make bone broth, Colodonato says, a process that took 24 hours. Her multicooker gets the broth made in less than five hours.

Dried beans? Under an hour. Cooking dinner and then keeping it warm without overcooking until time to eat? Colodonato does that, too.

Still, Colodonato says most of her multicooker experimentation has been with a food she’s “really picky” about: perfecting a technique that makes meat “tender, but with texture and bite to it.”

Her favorite method traditionally has been to sear and braise the meat in a Dutch oven, but “this method takes hours.” Preparing meat in a slow cooker, Colodonato says, makes it “lose texture and get mushy” and bland, even with lots of seasoning.

So she’s been using her multifunctional appliance to sear and then pressure-cook the meat, keeping the seasoning “vibrant” and the meat’s texture intact.

Under pressure

Pressure cookers have long been used to speed cooking time. The earliest, according to Discover Pressure Cooking, goes all the way back to 1679 and French physicist Denis Papin. Commercial pressure cookers came on the market in the 19th century and became even more popular in the early 20th century, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture decreed that pressure cooking was the only way to preserve low-acid foods without risking food poisoning.

But for those unfamiliar with using stove-top pressure cookers, learning how to use one could be a nerve-wracking pursuit. The older models, from the 1980s and earlier, often had lids that jiggled and were noisy; rubber gaskets that could loosen and leak steam; and a need to be attended at all times. Newer pressure cookers have more safety mechanisms, such as features that prevent the lid from being removed until the pot is completely depressurized, but they’ve never recovered to the mid-20th-century heights of popularity.

Fans of multifunctional cookers such as the Instant Pot and similar brands, though, like the pressure-cooking abilities of the pot — as well as its other capabilities.

“A lot of my friends rave about the yogurt function on it,” Colodonato says. And if something is not cooked to your liking when you’re still figuring out the ins and outs of the cooker, she says, just keep the food in the pot and switch to the saute or boil settings.

— We asked readers to share their favorite recipes for Instant Pots and other brands of multicookers. Here, with two of Colodonato’s favorites, are recipes from Kathy Keeney of Lititz, Barbara Tanner of Ephrata and Jenny Weaver of Quarryville.



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