This year – 2013 – at ten minutes shy of 3:00 PM, two misguided, and, to the best of our knowledge right now, self-radicalized brothers set off a bomb each near the finish line of the Boston Marathon at Copley Square, with the obvious intention of hurting as many people as possible. They used pressure cookers to make their bombs, the high pressure amplifying the effects of the explosives inside when the bombs went off.
I will not insult the suffering of the victims by saying I was pained by the fact that pressure cookers – my favourite cookware and the namesake for my blog – were used, but I certainly was dismayed. Pressure cookers are not used much in American kitchens. Here people use their ovens for slow and long cooking. They are thought to be mysterious, complicated –elite even – and potentially dangerous. They can be, if not used correctly, but even hot oil in a pot can be dangerous, as can an oven. In India, where most houses do not have ovens, and cylinders of cooking gas are limited and rationed, cooks use pressure cookers to speed up those spicy curries and whip up beans and lentils without soaking overnight or resorting to cans of preservative-filled foods. I love the Indian whistling pressure cooker for its place in the culinary history and heritage of the country I left to come study in America. To Indians a pressure cooker is a kitchen icon, an heirloom, and is often the only thing that keeps the fledlging cook from starving or running herself into financial ruin.
During hurricane Irene in 2011, when the electricity failed and the shiny, contemporary convection stove and oven beneath it at my in-laws’ house in Rhode Island were rendered useless, I cooked chicken tikka masala and rice in my pressure cooker over our tiny gas camping stove. Instead of ripening deli meat sandwiches made with stale bread, my in-laws and I ate a fresh, piping hot curry. The next day, when the chicken was gone, beans were made in my pressure cooker until the lights and oven were back in operation.
I introduced into our American-Bengali home the traditional Bengali Sunday lunch ritual of goat curry. K has embraced it and that meal has become a cherished institution in our hybrid-culture home. And I make it always in my pressure cooker…three whistles on high heat followed by fifteen minutes on low heat before allowing the pressure to release slowly on its own…as my mother taught me, and her mother taught her and so on.
Indian food has a bad rap for being complicated to cook and very ingredient heavy, and not always unjustly, but this curry requires few ingredients and just a single pot. And yes, a pressure cooker, while ideal, is not necessary; this can be made in the oven but you will have to be patient while the meat softens over several hours as you would if you were making beef stew. If you are using a pressure cooker you should be dipping your naan into the sauce in just over an hour from the time you start. The final texture of the curry should not be of the consistency of thick, immobile from heaviness, paste like curries in Indian restaurants, but should be like a stew.
I thought about the bombings again as I used my pressure cooker last week to set my caramel custard: that a pressure cooker could be used for anything other than cooking tasty food fast had never crossed my mind. I now feel nervous professing my love for my pressure cookers, and pressure cookers in general, openly.
After being closed for over a week, Copley Square is now back open for business. To encourage people to go shop in that part of town – not that Bostonians need a push to do that anyway – there is free parking in the entire Boylston area all week. To show our Boston spirit, we went to Copley on Friday and had a few – a few too many – drinks there on Friday after some of us from lab went there for a sushi lunch trip which turned into a bar hopping, colourful-martini competition event.
But Copley was roaring with people. There was life everywhere…people, pets and plants! I loved it. Spring is here in Boston finally and Copley is open once more! [cft format=0]