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How pressure-cooking is different from slow-cooking

Pressure cookers are becoming more mainstream, and slow cookers are here to stay. Here’s what makes them different from each other and how it’s possible now to save time, money and kitchen counter space with all-in-one vessels.

More: 12 reasons pressure cookers are the new slow cookers

Slow cookers are ideal for cooking at low temperatures for three to eight hours. They’re great for:

  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Overnight breakfasts
  • Yogurt
  • Tamales
  • Pasta
  • Foods you don’t need to eat right away
The inserts inside a slow cooker are usually ceramic. That, for me, is the biggest deterrent to using my slow cooker. I can’t sear, brown, sauté or pan-fry in a slow cooker. The newer electric pressure cookers, like the Instant Pot, have a stainless steel insert, so you can sear, brown, sauté or pan-fry in them.
A pressure cooker builds up pressure to a certain point, increasing the speed at which its contents are cooked. When the pressure is built up, it’s slowly released (or sporadically released in some models). They’re most often used for speed-cooking foods that normally take a very long time, for example:
  • Lentils and legumes
  • Bone broth and stock, especially if you want to use it in a recipe the same day
  • Meats you want browned then braised
  • Steel-cut oatmeal the morning of
  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Tamales
  • Pasta
  • Foods you want to eat very soon
I like to brown some meat and onions in my electric pressure cooker, make a little pasta sauce, add dry pasta and water, and voilà — I have al dente pasta in six minutes. Yes, six minutes. As you can see, there’s overlap between the two kinds of cooking. In many cases it’s all about whether you’re a last-minute cook or a plan-ahead cook. Of course, there are now multifunction electronic units that do it all — slow-cook and pressure-cook and more.

People in the Instant Pot Facebook group I follow (not affiliated with the company, 100,000-plus members) have been giving their vessels a name as if it’s a pet or member of their family. Some have bought additional pots, cooking entire multicourse meals in them. One comment I recently saw wondered if people were this excited when the microwave was invented. Who knew a kitchen appliance could create such community?

My mom’s 20-year-old stovetop whistles on every day as she prepares basmati rice, lentil curry (dal) or dhoklas and other farsans (steamed Indian savory cakes). My heart is with mine too, as comfortable and easy as it is, but my adventurous spirit lies with the Instant Pot, a seven-in-one pot.

I just adore it for its multiple features, huge support groups with tested recipe files and its easy-to-clean aspect. I can’t help but want to experiment more and get to know it. The question is, what do I name it?

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