It's the "Hot Pot" of the moment, or so say its fans -- the all-in-one pot that does nearly everything. So, of course, Martha Teichner just HAD to try it out...
Have years of holiday must-haves haunted your kitchen like the Ghosts of Christmases Past?
Do you even remember the fondue pot? Or how about that wok? What about the Panini Press, or the Vegematic? ("It slices! It dices!") Which ones are still on your counter -- and which ones have been consigned to that graveyard of gadgets, the garage?
Well, here's the latest: the Multi-Cooker. In the last 12 months, Americans have bought 2.6 million of them, the reason they're the subject of New York Times food writer Melissa Clark's new cookbook, "Dinner in an Instant" (Clarkson Potter).
It doesn't slice and dice; what it does do is exile even more electronics to the garage.
"It is a yogurt maker, it is a rice cooker," Clark said. "It will steam things. It'll sauté things."
But (as they say on late-night television) wait, there's more!
"It's an electric pressure cooker. It is a slow cooker."
In theory, this one device upends centuries of culinary specialization -- replacing more than a dozen of the giant, heavy pots and pans that chef Bill Briwa, an instructor at the California branch of the Culinary Institute of America, showed Teichner.
"If I could get rid of 8 or 10 pots and just have one, that seems a trade-off that somebody might be willing to make," Briwa said. "Maybe not me!"
Gone: pressure cookers. Briwa showed Teichner one model which looked like an instrument of torture.
"Here, for example, three separate thumbscrews that have to be opened independent of one another before you can lift this lid off," he said. "And there's really nothing that will keep you from opening it while it's under pressure."
"So it could kill you?" Teichner asked.
They were famous for exploding. Lingering terror -- and convenience -- made home cooks opt for slow cookers.
Irving Naxon's electric bean cooker, the Beanery, was inspired by his Lithuanian Jewish mother's stories of her childhood. "On Friday afternoons, as the ovens were being turned off for the Sabbath, they would put the crock in the ovens," recalled Irving Naxon's daughter, Lenore. "And then, when shabbat was over Saturday night, they would have their Saturday evening dinner."
The Beanery was one of over 200 inventions Naxon patented before eventually selling his company to Rival.
"So they changed the branding," said Lenore. "They called it the Crock Pot. And it exploded!"
Figuratively, that is -- not like pressure cookers. They're safe now. So Melissa Clark's philosophy is, why cook slowly when you can cook fast?
"We don't pressure cook food enough, because we're afraid of it," Clark said. "And so this takes the fear out of it. And it gets fantastic results for certain foods."
What does it do not so well? "Crispy," Clark said. "People will say, 'Oh, let's do a whole chicken in the Instant Pot.' Basically, it's steam pressure cooking method, so the steam makes the skin turn floppy. Unappetizing."
But tamarind ribs? Yummy, after less than an hour in the Instant Pot.
So will Multi-Cookers end up in the graveyard of kitchen gadgets? Clark said, "I got rid of my yogurt maker. I got rid of my slow cooker, rice cooker is probably on the way out, too. But this guy is gonna stay on my counter!"
For more info:
- Instant Pot
- "Dinner in an Instant: 75 Modern Recipes for Your Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot" by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter), in Hardcover and eBook formats. Available via Amazon
- Culinary Institute of America in California