This isn’t how fall was supposed to be.
It all started on September 18th…
Roast chicken might not sound like that much of a celebration, but we’re modest people and I roast one hell of a chicken. I turned the oven on and set about cleaning, seasoning, and trussing my bird. 15 minutes later, I opened the oven door to find the cavity cold and unwelcoming. I cocked my head the way my puppy does when hearing a sound she doesn’t recognize. “Cold oven, what the fu…”
Knock knock knock.
I set the roasting pan down on the counter and went to answer the door. It was my building’s superintendant and two men in plumber’s jumpsuits.
“Sorry ma’am for the interruption. We need to check something out here.”
“Sure. Everything ok?”
One of the guys crawled behind my oven while the other stuck a small flashlight in his mouth and hopped up on a ladder to look at my ceiling.
“Yup, it’s here.”
My super turned and said “Sorry miss, but it looks like the gas is going to be out for a little while.”
I fluttered my eyelashes, feeling easy breezy about my life and my day and these greasy strangers investigating my kitchen. Dinner could wait an hour or two.
“Do you think it’ll be back on by 7:00?”
The older plumber snorted. I turned sharply to the snorter and gestured to my chicken but I stopped when I saw his face. He had wrinkles in his forehead, burns on his arms, and deep set eyes full of wisdom. I suddenly regarded him with respect. I got the feeling he could tell you plumbing stories that would shake you to your core.
My super, a man who could tell you tales about mopping the lobby and not much else, responded nervously. “Miss, um, they’ve found a gas leak in the building. It is ConEdison’s policy that as soon as the leak is reported, they red tag the building and cut the gas. They hope to have it back on in the next couple of months. OK guys, let’s go check out the next apartment.”
I sat down and became very, very still for a long, long time.
Then I ordered some Chinese food.
The following day, the news was confirmed in a meeting held by my building’s management company. While the actual leak would be fixed within a couple of weeks, ConEd’s inspection, paperwork, report filing, and reinstatement of gas could take months. Some buildings in New York have gone 6 months with no gas. Some other buildings in New York have exploded due to gas leaks though, so I guess you take what you can get. We would have heat and hot water because those amenities are provided by the oil burning furnace, but no cooking gas and no dryer (which has a gas pilot light) in the laundry room until ConEd’s OK.
I did what any girl in my situation would do. I went shopping. No no, not for shoes or dresses. I shopped for an alternative cooking method: the induction cooktop. Induction cooking is the process of electrical currents magnetically exciting the iron molecules in a pan and producing heat in that excitement. That magnetic reaction doesn’t occur with copper pans, some stainless steel pans, and anything that is slightly warped or overused, so the day after the induction cooktop arrived I had to buy some new cookware too. A couple hundred dollars later, I took to the cooktop like a pro. Hey, I would not be slowed down by the inconvenience of my newly gas-less world. I would survive!
But it’s different.
*It’s important to say here that I’m reporting on a single plug-in unit, not a multiple burner range top. It’s probable that my experience would have been slightly better with a more substantial machine, but I can’t imagine choosing induction over gas for my main source of cooking heat.
It’s true that it boils water faster than any flame I’ve ever seen but the heat has no character. The center of the cooktop is where the most heat is conducted and, though you can turn it down to a low setting, it’s hard to distribute the heat evenly. That center ring is hotter than the rest of the pan even when you’re working with the highest quality heat conducting pans. No matter how frequently I adjust the heat level (an adjustment whose soundtrack is an annoying set of beeps), I seem to wind up with a slight char of whatever is dead center of the skillet. There’s another rude beeping if you pick the pan up. If I want to equally distribute oil, for example, across the bottom of the saucepan, I get beepy feedback I did not request nor require. While I understand that induction cooking is a greener way to cook, the romance of a flame under my skillet will never die. I long for that connection to the most basic process of fire to pan to food to mouth. I know what amount of heat I’ll get when the flame is at each height. My instincts guide my movements rather than a mathematical understanding of what amount of heat will be produced at level 1 vs. level 7.
Beep beep beep.
I know every function of my normal cooking process is manmade, from the piping of the gas to the tooling of the pan, but it feels caveman pure in comparison to induction cooking. The best thing about it is that I can leave a wooden spoon in the pan and never worry that it will catch fire, but that’s not saying much.
It’s now been two months of induction cooking and no baking whatsoever. It’s been a test of my patience and dedication to stay passionate about cooking during this time. Of course my business hasn’t been affected much as I cook in client’s homes or incubator kitchens, but my test kitchen has fallen into disarray. I give thanks for the one pot recipes in my repertoire like the one below. It takes a bit of time to cook properly, but it’s well worth it on a cold winter’s day. I use turkey andouille sausage because I prefer a less fatty meat for this gumbo, but regular pork andouille would be equally delicious.
Shrimp, Crab, and Sausage Gumbo
- 1 pound shrimp
- 1 onion diced
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup clam juice
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- ½ fennel bulb, diced
- 1 yellow or red bell pepper, diced
- 2 tomatoes diced, (or one 15 ounce can diced tomatoes)
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 ½ teaspoons hot paprika
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ pound smoked andouille turkey sausage, sliced into ¼ inch medallions
- 1 ½ teaspoons gumbo file
- ½ pound crabmeat
- salt and pepper
- Clean the shrimp, saving the shells in a stockpot. Add ¼ of the diced onion and 5 cups of water to the pot. Season with salt bring to a boil and then simmer over medium-low heat for about 25 minutes. Strain stock and discard shells.
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat until it’s just about to smoke. Sprinkle flour over the hot oil and stir with a heatproof spatula until it’s smooth. Keep stirring until the mixture has thickened and darkened, about 10 minutes.
- Add the rest of the onion, celery, fennel, and pepper, stirring until they are covered in the flour/ oil roux and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the bay leaves, the hot paprika, the smoked paprika, the strained shrimp stock and the clam juice. Let it simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
- Add the sausage and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the shrimp, cook for 5 minutes and then take off the heat.
- Stir in the gumbo file, parsley, and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir in crabmeat and enjoy.