The first meal I made in the Instant Pot was breakfast. I followed a recipe for pear cardamom steel-cut oats with a pressure-cooking time of 3 minutes. I usually make overnight steel-cut oats in a rice cooker, so they’re ready when I roll out of bed, but 3 minutes in the morning didn’t sound like much more work! I added the oats, water, and cardamom to the pot, locked the lid, set the timer, and waited.
Which is when I learned that the Instant Pot doesn’t always save you that much time. In addition to the time that each recipe cooks once pressurized (3 minutes, in this case), there’s an unspecified interval when you are waiting for the Instant Pot to reach its pressurized state. In the case of the oatmeal, this was another 5 minutes. When it was done, it had made half the volume I was expecting. Happily, because it cooked so quickly, I was able to make a second batch in 8 minutes for the grownups while the kids ate theirs. Still, the waiting around for the Instant Pot to pressurize didn’t feel like time saved–it felt like time wasted.
Similarly, once the pot has pressurized, it needs to de-pressurize before it is safe to open. There are two ways to depressurize the Instant Pot: one is manually, by turning a valve on the lid to vent steam—a method that one cookbook called “manually releasing” pressure and another called “quick pressure release”. Whatever you call it, this is the faster way to get to your food—it takes just a minute or so. (Also, it is extremely important to wear an oven mitt and keep exposed skin far from the vent: steam jets out of the valve and shoots several feet into the air when you use this method.)
But not all recipes will turn out if you vent the steam manually. For some, instructions say to let the pressure release naturally—which is to say, you need to account for some waiting-around time as the pressure cooker depressurizes on its own. (There’s a little silver peg that drops down when the lid is safe to open). This can add anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to your cook time.