What is a multicooker and could it change your life?

Chef Gaz Smith puts the Instant Pot, Tom Hanks’s top kitchen gadget, through its paces

Chef Gaz Smith says his Instant Pot “has saved me from ordering countless take-aways after a hard day in recent months”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Chef Gaz Smith says his Instant Pot “has saved me from ordering countless take-aways after a hard day in recent months”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

“It hasn’t seen the inside of the cupboard since Christmas, it gets used so often.” It’s fair to say Dublin chef Gaz Smith is very impressed with his Instant Pot, a Canadian-designed multipurpose cooking device. They’ve been around for a decade but are going through a popularity spike at the moment, fuelled by endorsement by fans. These include actor Tom Hanks, who mentioned the brand on both the Graham Norton and Ellen De Generes chat shows.

Unlike many kitchen gadgets that go from must-have to dust collector faster than you can say impulse buy, a multicooker has the potential to be enduringly useful. It can sauté, steam, pressure cook, slow cook, cook rice and keep food warm – all in one shiny metal pot.

The Instant Pot is probably the most recognisable brand – it’s a bestseller in the United States, and it’s gaining in popularity here – but there are a variety of other multicookers on sale at electrical appliance shops and online.

So what’s the story with these one-pot wonders, and have they got the potential to make getting dinner on the table every night a quicker, more efficient process?

“We already have a slow cooker and rice cooker at home, so I thought I would use it only for the pressure cooking, but it has replaced both of them,” Smith says.

“It’s like a fast slow cooker. You might arrive home from work wishing you’d put a stew into the slow cooker that morning, but this thing lets you chop up a few vegetables and some meat, bung it in and in 20 to 30 minutes you have that stew that you are dreaming of. It has saved me from ordering countless take-aways after a hard day in recent months.”

The magic comes with a caveat though – you’ll have to do a bit of homework with the instruction manual before you start cooking. Asked on the Ellen show what was the one thing he had tried that he would never do again, Tom Hanks replied: “Not following the instructions from an Instant Pot to a T.”

The pressure cooking function, while a lot less scary to operate than the pressure cookers of yore with their rattling lids and ominous hissing noises, seems to take a bit of getting used to.

Newcomers are urged to master the “Golden Rules of the Instant Pot Way of Cooking”, according to the (rather bossy) user manual. “Getting used to the buttons is a bit of a task at the start, but there are lots of online forums to go to for advice. I was nervous about the pressure, but after three or four goes, it is easy to use,” Smith says.

“The manual could be better, I think. If it is your first time using it, it’s important to know that the pressure toggle on the top is meant to be loose. That had me confused until I Googled it. But the app is great; you choose a recipe or similar dish and it runs a schedule for you, bleeping on your phone when you need to change function and so on.”

The chef uses a 5.7 litre model, and says it has the capacity to cook for his family of four. These are his recipes for family-friendly dinners that can be on the table in a fraction of the time that they would other wise take.

If you are in the market for a multicooker, check that they offer pressure and sauté functions as well as slow cooking, and note that cooking times may differ for the recipes here, depending on the model.

Beginners’ lamb stew: use the Instant Pot’s “meat/stew” function for 25 minutes on high pressure. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Beginners’ lamb stew: use the Instant Pot’s “meat/stew” function for 25 minutes on high pressure. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Beginners’ lamb stew

Serves four

This one is perfect for your first foray with an Instant Pot, it allows you to try out the pressure cook function with something that can’t really go wrong. Also one of the biggest downsides of the slow cooker was not being able to reduce the stew at the end if it was too thin. The sauté function is surprisingly good and fast at reducing as well as searing.

Ingredients

700g lamb shoulder (900g if on the bone)
2 small onions
4 carrots
4 potatoes
½ small turnip
1 leek
3 sprigs of parsley
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tin chopped tomatoes
470ml water
A glass of red wine

Method

1. Use the sauté function and lay the lamb in the pot, fat side down, for six to seven minutes as you chop your vegetables.

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2. Chop the veg and potatoes into rough chunks, they’re going to get very tender very quickly due to the pressure. Add them to the pot and sauté them too for a few minutes to add extra depth of flavour.

3. Add the tomatoes, red wine, herbs and water and a good sprinkle of salt

4. Pop on the lid. Use the “meat/stew” function for 25 minutes on high pressure and go have a glass of wine as it turns these few ingredients into a simple, hearty delicious stew in minutes rather than hours

5. If you find your stew is a bit thin, with the lid still off, just hit the sauté button, and let it reduce until you’re happy with the consistency. It should only take a minute or two. Adjust the seasoning, I usually add freshly ground black pepper.

Duck leg with wild garlic spiced rice: wild garlic leaves and spring onions give the dish a fresh, vibrant colour. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Duck leg with wild garlic spiced rice: wild garlic leaves and spring onions give the dish a fresh, vibrant colour. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Duck leg with wild garlic spiced rice

Serves four

This is also amazing the next day, one to bring in to work in a lunch box. Duck legs are very keenly priced and the fat will render wonderfully and flavour the rice.

Ingredients

4 duck legs
470ml stock (a stock cube dissolved in two mugs of water is fine)
2 onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
10 coriander seeds
8 whole cloves
2 red chillies
2 spring onions
4 whole leaves of wild garlic
350g jasmine rice
Handful of wild rice (both types of rice soaked for five minutes and rinsed in a few changes of water)

Method

1. Use the sauté function and put a small glug of oil into the pot to sear the duck legs, skin side down for six to seven minutes, then turn them over and sear for another five to six minutes before removing them from the pot, leaving the oil in the bottom.

2. Add the onion, garlic, coriander seeds, cloves, chillies to the oil in the pot and sauté for another minute or two until everything is golden and aromatic.

3. Add the stock and put the duck back in and pop on the lid. Use the pressure cook function for 10 minutes, after which the duck will be lovely and tender and your stock intensely flavoured, perfect for cooking the rice in.

4. Lift out the duck, add the rice to the stock, pop the duck back on top and use the rice cooker button for nine minutes.

5. Depressurise the pot. I add the wild garlic leaves and spring onions whole at this stage, the residual steam just softens them and they give the dish a fresh, vibrant colour. The garlic leaves keep their sweet hit without it being lost in the dish.

Sticky beef short ribs are cooked for 40 minutes using the Instant Pot’s “meat/poultry” setting. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Sticky beef short ribs are cooked for 40 minutes using the Instant Pot’s “meat/poultry” setting. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sticky beef short ribs

Serves four

This is one of my Sunday go-to recipes. It can be served with jacket potatoes and coleslaw, rice and steamed greens, a plate of chips, or a massive spring salad. I always get more beef than we need because it is amazing in sandwiches the next day.

Ingredients

1.2 kg beef ribs, cut into ribs between the bones
400ml barbecue sauce, shop bought is fine, or follow the recipe below
Pinch fennel seeds
Small pinch coriander seeds
Pinch chilli flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
80ml water

Barbecue sauce:

600ml ketchup
120ml cider vinegar
2 tbsp molasses or dark treacle
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp garlic powder
110g  brown sugar

Method

1. Sear the ribs on the sauté function until they are golden, then add the seeds and spices and toast them a bit to release the extra flavour hidden away.

2. Add the shop-bought barbecue sauce (or the barbecue sauce ingredients listed above) and the water. You'll end up with a lot of sauce if you use the homemade version, but that's a good thing.

3. Switch on “meat/poultry” for 40 minutes. When finished cooking you’ll likely find it needs a bit of reducing to get to a nice sticky glaze, so remove the beef and use the sauté function to reduce the sauce until its nicely thickened and syrupy. Pour this glaze back over the ribs.

Lightly curried coconut chicken uses the whole chicken. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Lightly curried coconut chicken uses the whole chicken. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Lightly curried coconut chicken

Serves four

This is a lovely dish, using the whole chicken. The legs and breasts, which usually require different cooking techniques, both end up juicy and tender while being cooked the same way, at the touch of a button.

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, jointed into carcass, 2 breasts, 2 thighs and 2 wings (your butcher will do this for you)
3 tbsp curry powder
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground garlic
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 tsp paprika
1 stick cinnamon
2 tbsp garam masala
1 tin coconut milk
Pinch of salt
Juice of 1 lime
4 sprigs of coriander

Method

1. With a glug of oil in the pot, toast the spices for a few minutes, until aromatic, using the sauté function.

2. Add the chicken, and the carcass too for extra flavour and gelatinous feel to the sauce, along with the coconut milk and a pinch of salt.

3. Turn on the poultry button for 15 minutes and once that is done, add the lime juice and coriander and serve.

4. I usually serve this with Bombay potatoes and onions. It is also delicious in a crusty roll for lunch the next day.

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