Life / Food

Canadian-designed Instant Pot is taking over kitchens

Five-minute risotto? Korean pulled pork? Yogurt? This all-in-one kitchen gadget does it all.

Ottawa engineer Robert Wang is the CEO of Double Insight, the company behind the massively successful Instant Pot.

Torstar News Service

Ottawa engineer Robert Wang is the CEO of Double Insight, the company behind the massively successful Instant Pot.

By now there’s probably someone in your office raving about their new Instant Pot, the kitchen appliance that’s a combination pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer and yogurt maker that will also keep your food warm and sauté meats and veggies.

“It’s life-changing, and I can make chili with dried beans in an hour,” one co-worker marvelled. “I always make my mom’s Portuguese chicken soup with it,” said another.

In the past two weeks, three more coworkers shelled out $185 for the Canadian invention.

The Instant Pot Community Facebook group has more than 400,000 members sharing recipes, hacks, videos and for some of the more hardcore users, pictures of rolling carts dedicated for the Instant Pot, the appliance decked out in decals for a personalized touch and recommendations on what bags built specifically to carry the Instant Pot is best. This week, an “authorized” Instant Pot special issue recipe magazine hit the newsstands.

The Instant Pot’s story began during the 2008 economic bust when Robert Wang, a laid-off Ottawa telecom engineer, made a 180-degree turn in his career and looked at household appliances. With nary a marketing plan and a staff of only 25, two million Instant Pots have since landed on kitchen counters, mainly from word of mouth raves, and spurred an industry of Instant Pot-heads with their own cookbooks and fan clubs.

At least part of its genius is it helped home cooks get over the one enduring fear of pressure cookers — the kablooey factor.

“Why smartphones succeed is that they have nine to 10 sensors whether it’s in the camera or screens. I thought what if we added more censors to the pressure cooker? We can make it safer, provide consistency and automation,” says Wang, the 53-year-old CEO of Ottawa-based Double Insight, the company behind the Instant Pot.

It’s obvious that Wang comes from a tech background and not a culinary one. He spoke more about consistency, efficiency and simplicity than flavour or texture.

Wang worked at the research arm for the now-defunct Canadian telecommunications company Nortel from the mid-90s to 2000, right around the time the tech bubble burst. He moved on to form another telecom start-up with another colleague that raised millions in venture capital, but that too ended with another burst: the subprime mortgage crises of 2008.

“I thought it was impossible to do high tech because funding was becoming a serious problem,” Wang says. “I thought we should look into the consumer space, specifically kitchen appliances.”

Wang and his colleagues looked into the electrical pressure cooker, which was gaining popularity as people were cooking more rather than dining out, but wanted a meal that was also healthy and fast. A pressure cooker works by creating an airtight seal in the cooker, building pressure inside the pot and forcing hot steam into the food, rendering the toughest meats into a tender, juicy meal in a fraction of the time it would take in the slow cooker or oven.

The Instapot works in the same way, but sets itself apart from other pressure cookers with additional features like slow cooker, rice cooker yogurt maker, and sauté.

The first Instant Pot went on sale in 2010 with subsequent models released every 12 to 18 months, each with incremental improvements such as an added yogurt-making function; presets for different foods; accessories like a rack for eggs and in the newest fourth generation model: bluetooth capability. The Instant Pot also eased fears of the notorious pressure cooker by incorporating more safety features that make the machine far less temperamental than its stovetop predecessors.

“In high tech, you improve your project on a continuous basis,” Wang says, adding that four new Instant Pot models are scheduled for release this year along with an improved recipe app. “We listen to our customers closely and we have a page on our site where people can submit ideas.”

To promote it, the company gave free Instant Pots to influential food bloggers and recipe developers to test, but it was Amazon’s rankings and reviews that Wang used to track success: January 2013 was the tipping point when the second-generation model ranked higher than all other stovetop pressure cookers on Amazon’s bestseller list.

With more than 2,000 reviews averaging 4.5 out of 5 stars on its bestseller third-generation model, it’s an endorsement better than any ad the company could buy. Fans released Instant Pot cookbooks, a Facebook group called Instant Pot Recipes 101 has 17,000 members, and thousands of Instant Pot cooking videos can be found on YouTube.

Pressure cooking does have limits, however. If you want the golden, crispy and slightly charred skin on your chicken or potatoes, stick to an oven. Pressure cookers also need 10 to 15 minutes for the pressure to build, and another 5 to 10 for the pressure to release before it’s safe to lift the lid, so while risotto takes five minutes to cook, in total it’s more of a 30-minute venture. Still, fans love it for the consistent results and ability to step away from the kitchen while it’s cooking.

For now, Double Insight is in the midst of expanding as its product is quickly becoming a household name like Crockpot or KitchenAid. The company is planning to double its workforce to 50 employees over the next year to keep up with the continuous need to innovate. Other appliances are in the works but what will be the followup to the Instant Pot, Wang is unsurprisingly tight-lipped.

“We want to reimagine the kitchen and apply the same technology to other appliances,” says Wang. “The Instant Pot isn’t the be-all-and-end-all product.”

Mushroom and Pea Risotto

You can step back from the stirring when making risotto in the Instant Pot.

Torstar News Service

You can step back from the stirring when making risotto in the Instant Pot.

This classic Italian rice dish is what Instant Pot devotees say sold them on the gadget. There’s no need to keep an eye on the pot or constant stirring, perfect for parents with tykes running around. This recipe is has been adapted from Serious Eats’ recipe for Pressure Cooker Mushroom Risotto.

1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil

2 tbsp (30 mL) unsalted butter

1-1/2 lbs (670g) mixed mushrooms (button, oyster, shiitake, etc.)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups (500 mL) arborio rice

1 tbsp + 1 tsp (20 mL) white miso paste

2 tsp (10 mL) Japanese soy sauce

3/4 cup (180 mL) dry white wine

1-900 mL box no-salt added vegetable or chicken broth

1/2 cup (125 mL) finely grated parmesan, plus more for garnish

1/2 cup (125 mL) frozen peas, rinsed and drained

Chopped parsley, for garnish

Using Sauté function on “normal” setting, heat oil and butter. Stir until butter is melted and bubbly. Add mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally until mushrooms are browned and excess moisture has cooked off, about 15 minutes depending on variety of mushrooms.

Add onions and garlic. Stir frequently until onions are soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add rice and stir until grains are lightly toasted but not browned (centre of rice will remain opaque but edges will turn translucent). Stir in miso paste and soy sauce. Add wine and stir frequently until alcohol smell has cooked off, about 2 minutes.

Press “Keep Warm/Cancel” button. Add broth. Secure lid on Instant Pot, making sure valve is switched to “Sealing” mode. Cook risotto on Manual setting for 5 minutes at low pressure.

When time is up, carefully pull release valve and let steam escape until float valve drops to indicate lid is safe to remove.

Remove lid. Stir to let remaining liquid evaporate. Taste. Add salt and pepper, if necessary. Stir in parmesan and peas. Transfer to serving plates and garnish with parsley.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Meaty Bean Chili

The pressure cooker makes quick work of dried beans, making this chili a simple hearty meal for busy nights.

Torstar News Service

The pressure cooker makes quick work of dried beans, making this chili a simple hearty meal for busy nights.

Chilis and stews are go-to meals for Instapot users since dried beans can be cooked in less than an hour without an overnight soak. This is an updated version of my turkey chili recipe with cocoa powder and coffee added in. It sounds odd but it gives the chili added depth and smoky flavour.

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

1 lb (450g) extra lean ground beef, chicken or turkey

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 red pepper, diced

1/2 cup (125 mL) corn kernels

1/4 cup (60 mL) tomato paste

2 tsp (10 mL) each, Italian seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, finely ground coffee

1 tsp (5 mL) each unsweetened cocoa powder, cumin

1/2 tsp (2 mL) cayenne

2-28 oz cans diced tomato

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup (250 mL) dried red kidney beans

Grated cheddar, parsley and sour cream, for garnish

Using Sauté function on “normal” setting, heat oil and sauté meat until no longer pink. Add onion and garlic. Stir until meat is browned and onions have softened, about 2 minutes.

Add diced red pepper and corn. Stir in tomato paste, Italian seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, coffee, cocoa, cumin and cayenne until incorporated. Press “Keep Warm/Cancel” button. Add canned tomato (including liquid) with dried beans.

Secure lid on pot, making sure valve is on “Sealing” setting. Turn on “Bean/Chili” function and cook for 50 minutes on high pressure.

When time is up, allow natural pressure release, about 15 minutes. Remove lid and stir chili. If chili is to runny, turn on Sauté function to cook off excess liquid till chili reaches desired thickness.

Garnish with cheddar, parsley and sour cream. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 10 servings.

Korean Chili Pulled Pork

Pulled pork gets whipped up quickly in a pressure cooker, and topping this recipe with a simple sauce completes the tasty tacos.

Torstar News Service

Pulled pork gets whipped up quickly in a pressure cooker, and topping this recipe with a simple sauce completes the tasty tacos.

Pork shoulder is a popular cut for pressure cooking since it can render the tough and relatively affordable piece of meat into juicy pulled pork in an hour (it would take five to seven in a slow cooker). When cooking large cuts of meats, it’s recommended to let the pressure cooker depressurize on its own time rather than pulling the quick release valve. This ensures the meat stays tender.

Gochujang, fermented Korean chili paste, and gochugaru, Korean chili flakes can be found at Asian grocers or the Asian aisle at the supermarket.

The pork can be served on rice, in tacos, or in a bun with slaw, but I like serving it in steamed baos, found in the refrigerate section of Asian grocers. They take 15 minutes to steam. This recipe will fill about 20 baos.

For the gochujang sauce

1-200 g container or 1/2 cup (250 mL) gochujang

1/4 cup (60 mL) apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp (30 mL) brown sugar

1 tbsp (15 mL) Japanese soy sauce

1 tsp (5 mL) each garlic powder, onion powder, gochugaru or any chili flakes

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients. Set aside.

For the pork

1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable or canola oil

1-4 lb (1.8 kg) bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder cut into 4 large chunks

1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh ginger, minced

1 cup (250 mL) no-salt added beef broth

Using Sauté function on “normal” setting, heat oil. In batches, brown meat on all sides till golden brown. Remove all pork from pot. Sauté onion, garlic and ginger in rendered fat till soft. Add broth to deglaze pot, scraping bottom of pot with a wooden spatula to loosen bits of caramelized pork. Press “Keep Warm/Cancel” button. Return pork to pot.

Secure lid on pot, making sure valve is on “Sealing” setting. Turn on Manual function and cook for 50 minutes on high pressure.

When time is up, let cooker depressurize naturally, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove lid and check if pork is fork tender. If not, replace lid and cook on high pressure for another 10 minutes.

Transfer pork to a large bowl. Discard bones and skin. Shred meat with two forks. Toss pork in gochujang sauce. Serve immediately with rice, in tacos, in soft burger buns or steamed baos.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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