Make room for a new multi-cooker: The Ninja Foodi
Picking a food fight with a ninja is never a good idea. Especially if it’s the brand new Ninja Foodi, the squat black R2-D2-like multi-cooker taking up half my counter that promises to cook just about anything.
Of course I didn’t bother reading the manual with all its do’s and don’ts, troubleshooting tips and error messages before starting to cook. I even blithely ignored the colourful illustrated cheat sheet, with its subtle suggestion: “First time pressure cooking? Try this water test.”
Until I performed said test — which involves turning the detachable pressure lid until it can go no further and moving the toggle switch slightly to the left to the steam setting, though you’re positive it’s not far enough — my dishes were dismal, from raw rice to petrified meat bits that bore no resemblance to unctuous pulled pork.
Then I tried the herb-roasted chicken, pressure-cooked on a rack over honey-lemon water and finished under the unit’s fixed Air Crisp lid. It took an hour, the same time as oven-roasting, but the result was so moist and tender, with perfectly crisp golden skin, I almost bowed to the Foodi in gratitude. Me and my Ninja were in sync at last.
In the past week we’ve turned out perfect peppers stuffed with brown rice and ground beef, meltingly-tender short ribs with root vegetables, steamed Brussels sprouts, BBQ wings cooked from frozen, and giant pots of pasta and cornbread-topped chili that would easily feed eight. After feeding friends and neighbours, the leftovers are now frozen in single-serve portions for hungry days ahead.
For dessert, my Ninja and I baked a giant chocolate chip cookie.
Though not the first multi-cooker on the market, the $330 Ninja joins a long line of clever electric appliances from the likes of Instant Pot, T-Fal and Philips designed to help us get a healthy dinner on the table fast.
In his 20 years observing how we eat, Chicago-based NPD Group analyst Joe Derochowski has watched our habits change from a slab of protein in the middle of the plate surrounded by a few sides to our current love affair with one-pot meals.
At the same time, Derochowski has watched slow cookers soar in popularity; they’re now used by 83 per cent of U.S. households. When he saw the first Instant Pot (invented in Ottawa!) in 2010, combining a slow cooker with a speedy pressure cooker, “I knew it was going to be a hit,” he says.
He says multi-cooker sales have jumped 112 per cent in the past year. By the end of the year he expects them to be in 22 to 24 per cent of U.S. households, leaving plenty of room for growth.
Be advised, these new pressure cookers are completely unlike the hissing pots of our youth with their jiggling weights and tales of food on the ceiling. The Ninja cooks so quietly, with an occasional wisp of steam through the vent, the only way you know it’s working is by watching the white lines on the control panel go round and round. An upbeat dum-de-da lets you know when the food is ready, and a flick of the vent button sends a woosh of unthreatening warm steam straight up.
Kenzie Swanhart, a Boston-based cookbook author working with the Ninja team, says consumers are delighted to discover they can make dishes like a perfect roast chicken, tender, crisp barbecued ribs or a meal of teriyaki chicken, broccoli and rice in their new machine.
Swanhart uses her Ninja four to five times a week then throws the extra-large non-stick pot, rack and crisping basket in the dishwasher. She’s proud of its versatility, from appetizers like zucchini fries to dessert.
Derochowski says multi-cookers have grown more than 20 per cent in the past year, and the category will continue to grow as long as manufacturers keep innovating and meeting consumer needs, fast and slow.
Now if they could just make them a little smaller!