The Instant Pot’s instant success

Fueled by a surge in pandemic cooking, the Instant Pot became a legend of sorts, finding fandom among the desi diaspora. Who among us doesn’t remember waking up to the hiss of the pressure cooker in their homes, a fixture in every South Asian kitchen? Thus, the segue to the electric version was a no-brainer, what with food influencers churning out Instant Pot recipes that were typically made in pressure cookers. What sealed its future as the darling of every Indian cook was its ability to not blow a gasket, even while it sautéd, simmered, fermented yogurt, softened lentils, and cooked daal and rice simultaneously with its PIP (pot in pot) feature.

So, it was shocking news to many when Instant Brands, the maker of the Instant Pot and other household brands such as Pyrex, Snapware, Chicago Cutlery, and CorningWare, announced on June 12th that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The move, according to a statement by the company, will secure $132.5 million in funding to allow it to stay afloat and restructure rather than liquidate its business. “While we continue our efforts to strengthen our financial position, this court-approved financing gives us the ability to continue to provide all of our great products to consumers around the world during this process,” said Ben Gadbois, President and CEO of Instant Brands.    

What does this filing mean for the consumer?

The company is not going under, explains Sandeep Gupta, Managing Partner at Novo Advisors. “While it’s still early in their filing, it’s likely that the company will emerge from bankruptcy as a stronger enterprise,” he said. This means that the stalwarts of our desi kitchens – CorningWare, Pyrex, and the phenom that is the Instant Pot – will likely continue to be sold. Their new funding of $132.5 million ensures that the business operations will continue—including paying wages and benefits to its 2,400 employees.

Instant Pot (IP) gained cult status in 2016 when hundreds of “potheads” purchased the super cooker (215,000 units sold),  making it one of the top-selling products sold on Amazon’s Prime Day. In consequent years, 2017 and 2018 the IP broke its own record by selling over 300,000 units, and it seemed like there was no stopping its meteoric rise. However, net sales decreased by 21.9% in the first quarter of fiscal 2023, compared with last year’s period, marking it the seventh consecutive quarter of year-over-year sales contraction. Shoppers have been conservative about buying home products and once you have an IP in your kitchen, you are not likely to buy another one for years to come, just like we had our stovetop pressure cookers for decades.

This is a screenshot of an Facebook group for Indian cooking with Instant Pot.
Facebook groups about Indian cooking with Instant Pot are among the most active. (Image: from Facebook)

The desi bump

Founder Robet Wang famously said that he wanted to be the Steve Jobs of kitchen appliances, wanting to place his IP in every kitchen in America. He almost did that. His grassroots approach to marketing was largely fueled by word-of-mouth, with dozens of Facebook Instant Pot cooking groups. According to Yi Qin, vice president of products at Instant Brands Inc., Indian users are among the most active about posting recipes and images. 

The pot has potential

Anupy Singla, founder of Indian as Apple Pie, has a new cookbook, Instant Pot Indian: 70 Full-Flavor, Authentic Recipes for Any Sized Instant Pot, fresh off the press. According to Singla, “A decline in sales was not just about a lack of interest in the Instant Pot – it was also about a lack of education. Outside of the very committed and early Instant Pot fans, many folks put their Instant Pots aside or never pulled them out of the boxes because they never truly understood how to use them.” 

 She said despite the abundance of recipes, books, and videos, there was something missing. “Part of it was in marketing. As I always say, this pot is not magic, but it is magical,” says Singla. “There are warm-up times with all recipes that are not clearly noted in many recipes and articles about the appliance… Americans love their electric pressure cookers, but they also need reliable recipes and cookbooks to go with them that give them flavor, scalability, and time/cooking clarity all in one easy spot.”

Despite the bankruptcy and spiraling sales numbers, Instant Pot does have room for growth. It is said that only one in three American households own an Instant Pot, so there is hope for all of us who want to cook up a  fragrant Murg Makhani in less than 30 minutes on a weeknight. 

Anupy Singla’s Murg Makhani (Butter Chicken)

This is an image of Murg Makhani (butter chicken) in a pot. (Photo courtesy: Anupy Singla)
Cook up a delicious Murg Makhani in an Instant Pot (Photo courtesy: Anupy Singla)

It took me more than two dozen tries to perfect this dish in the Instant Pot and get to the point where my family prefers it over the restaurant version. Making it at home means that you don’t have to overload it with butter or cream, so you can feel less guilty about eating it and feeding it to your family.

3 Quart6 Quart8 Quart
Yield4–6 servings6–8 servings8–12 servings
Warm up8 mins14 mins16 mins
Cook15 mins15 mins15 mins
Cool down10 mins NR + MR10 mins NR + MR10 mins NR + MR
Total time33 mins39 mins41 mins
Ingredients3 Quart6 Quart8 Quart
ghee or unsalted butter (dairy or alternative)4 Tbsp6 Tbsp8 Tbsp
green cardamom pods, lightly crushed (keep the husks)123
black cardamom pods (no need to crush)123
cloves, finely ground61215
cassia leaves (or bay leaves)1 (or 2)2 (or 3)2 (or 4)
almond flour1/4 cup1/2 cup23 cup
turmeric powder1/2 tsp1 tsp2 tsp
yellow or red onions, puréed1 small1 medium2 medium
piece of ginger, puréed1 (2-inch)1 (4-inch)1 (6-inch)
cloves of garlic, puréed61215
fresh Thai or serrano chiles, stems removed, thinly sliced2–44–88–16
garam masala2 tsp1 Tbsp + 1 tsp2 Tbsp
ground cumin2 tsp1 Tbsp + 1 tsp2 Tbsp
red chile powder or cayenne pepper2 tsp1 Tbsp + 1 tsp2 Tbsp
paprika (unsmoked)2 tsp1 Tbsp + 1 tsp2 Tbsp
light brown sugar2 tsp1 Tbsp + 1 tsp2 Tbsp
salt1 Tbsp2 Tbsp3 Tbsp
water1/4 cup1/2 cup3/4 cup
boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces2 lb4 lb8 lb
tomatoes, puréed1 medium2 medium3 medium
unsalted tomato paste1 Tbsp2 Tbsp1/4 cup
half-and-half or heavy cream (dairy or alternative)1/4 cup1/2 cup23 cup
chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish2 Tbsp1/4 cup13 cup

1. Place the inner pot in your Instant Pot. Select the SAUTE setting and adjust to NORMAL. When the indicator flashes HOT, add the ghee, green and black cardamom, cloves, and cassia or bay leaves. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

2. Add the flour. Stir and cook for 40 seconds. You can also add ½ cup of ground blanched almonds or use all-purpose or quinoa flour instead.

3. Add the turmeric. Stir and cook for 30 seconds.

4. Add the onions. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

5. Add the ginger, garlic, and fresh chilies. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

6. Add the garam masala, cumin, red chili powder, paprika, brown sugar, and salt. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

7. Press CANCEL. Carefully remove the inner pot and place on a heat-resistant surface. Once cool enough to handle, transfer the contents to a bowl. Scrape the bottom to loosen anything stuck—use a tablespoon of water and warm the pot on the SAUTE setting to help deglaze if needed. 

8. Return the inner pot to the base. Add the water and then place a trivet in the pot. Place the chicken on the trivet and then add the mixture from Step 7 on top of the chicken. Do NOT stir.

9. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Again, do not stir—the key is to prevent the tomatoes from touching the bottom during the cooking process.

10. Lock the lid into place and make sure the pressure release valve is set to the sealing position (upwards). Press the PRESSURE COOK button and then press the PRESSURE LEVEL button until the panel reads LOW. Adjust the cook time to 15 minutes.11. Once the cooking is complete, release the pressure naturally for 10 minutes. Then manually release any remaining pressure, press CANCEL, and remove the lid. Let the dish cool for 2–3 minutes and then remove the trivet with tongs and stir until all the chicken is coated. Remove and discard the green cardamom husks, the black cardamom, and cassia or bay leaves or leave them in for flavor and eat around them. All the other spices are edible. Add the cream and stir. The cream holds up better once the dish cools slightly. Garnish with the cilantro and serve with basmati rice or Indian bread like roti or naan.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor,...