Health and Wellness
Recipe Rescue: The FireHouse Chef highlights Canadian fire hall food
I can hardly believe I have been sharing recipes, tips and cooking stories from life in the firehouse for more than six years. My first column spoke to the camaraderie and huge benefits that a platoon can experience from time spent together in the kitchen.
By Patrick Mathieu
Cooking and eating together is a time during long, busy shifts when firefighters can bond, chat about life, reflect on the success and failures of the shift and, well, be a family. I still vividly remember my first column because it is still something I am passionate about and firmly still believe in today. I have experienced firsthand that a platoon/family that cooks together, stays together.
I recently released my first cookbook, The FireHouse Chef; it is a project I am incredibly proud of and, really, is a testament to camaraderie and cooking as part of firehouse culture.
I come from a long family line of both firefighters (my grandpapa and great uncles were firefighters in Quebec City) and passionate home cooks. My grandmama was the chief in our family kitchen, the best cook I have ever known; she wrote recipes that would become family treasures, even passing them out on her death bed. While visiting my aunt and uncle in Florida, we were translating grandmama’s recipes to English from French and trying to convert “a little of this and a little of that” into a tangible recipe.
My beautiful wife Andrea inspired me to start compiling my stack of recipes and place them all in a book; if nothing else, we would have all of my recipes from years of cooking in the fire hall in one place to pass along to our family and generations to come. I thought, what an amazing idea, but as I began the process I also realized I am not the only passionate firefighter foodie who takes pride in feeding his platoon. What if I reached out to other firefighters?
Cooking was a huge part of my life and growth within the fire service and I was certain other brothers and sisters felt the same. What if I could write a cookbook featuring other Canadian firefighters, their love for food, and highlight their best fire-hall recipes? What if I could have this book professionally published and use it as a tool for charity? Cooking and giving back to our communities, that’s what firefighters do right! With the help of my amazingly supportive association and IAFF Canada I began the four-year labor of love this cookbook project became, and reached out to every single fire department in Canada, asking for submissions of locally inspired recipes and stories about the departments and communities.
The response and support from our firefighter family was amazing. Recipes came in from Newfoundland and Labrador to Yukon. The idea of a professionally published fire-hall cookbook soon turned into a story of Canadian firefighters and life in our firehouses.
Since being released in November 2016, The FireHouse Chef has raised approximately $10,000 for charity, has been featured on national radio and television, and in multiple local newspapers and magazines across Canada.
Other than the immense charitable aspect of the cookbook project, the biggest reward has been the camaraderie I have experienced from firefighters across the country, who have contributed to the book, cooked from the book, seen the book on television and contacted me, or are using the cookbook as a tool to raise money to support local charitable organizations.
My inspiration behind my very first column six years ago resonates even more today. I am immensely proud to be part of this firefighter family and to be a firehouse chef. Here are four recipes from me and our firefighter family. Enjoy!
Crisp braised duck legs with apricots and brandy
- 6 (12- to-16-oz) fresh duck legs, trimmed of excess fat
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp grape seed oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 4 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 medium celery stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 6 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb dried apricots, thinly sliced
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4-8 cups good quality chicken broth
- 3 tbsp brandy
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- Season the duck legs liberally with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, put the duck legs in the pot skin-side down and cook until the skin is very well browned and crisp, about 10 minutes (reduce heat to medium if they brown too fast). Flip duck legs once and cook a couple minutes on the other side. Transfer legs to a plate and drain off all but 2 tbsp of the fat from the pot and save the fat for another day.
- Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to the pot and cook over medium heat stirring often, until the garlic is just starting to turn golden-brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the apricots, thyme and brandy. Arrange the duck legs skin side up on top of the vegetables and add enough chicken broth to cover the duck by about 1/2 inch, up to 8 cups. Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook until fork tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Turn off the heat and let the duck rest in the juice for 15 to 30 minutes. Skim off any fat from the surface of the sauce.
- With a slotted spoon, distribute the vegetables among a platter. Top with the duck legs. Stir another dash of brandy into the sauce in the pot, and then drizzle the sauce over the duck legs. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
Thai drunken noodles
- 1 200g package pad Thai noodles
- 4 chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup basil leaves, preferably Thai
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 2 scallions, white and green chopped
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Thai bird chillis, finely chopped
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 tbsp peanut oil
- 3 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 ½ tbsp mushroom soy sauce
- 1½ tbsp normal dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- ¼ cup Sake rice wine
- Pour boiling water over noodles in a large bowl and set aside for 5 minutes (or as per packet instructions), and drain when ready. Make sure to rinse noodles under cold water.
- Put sauce ingredients in a small bowl and mix to combine. Heat oil in wok or pan over high heat. Add garlic and chilli and cook for 10 seconds. Add the eggs and cook stirring constantly until just set. Add chicken and fry until cooked partially through, about 2 minutes.
- Add the shallots/scallions and about 1 tbsp of the sauce and stir fry for 30 seconds, just to coat the chicken. Add the noodles and sauce and cook for a couple minutes until the sauce has coated the noodles completely and the start to brown.
- Remove from heat and immediately add basil leaves, stir until just wilted, then serve immediately. Enjoy with a cold Tiger Beer.
Cast iron hanger steak with Dijon cream sauce
- 8-12 oz hanger steak, trimmed of excess fat and silverskin
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 5 tbsp cognac or brandy
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp minced ﬂat-leaf parsley
- Season the steaks liberally with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the pan begins to smoke, add the steaks. Cook, turning just once, about four minutes per side or until an instant-read thermometer reads 130 degrees in the thickest part. Remove pan from heat and transfer steaks to a cutting board and loosely tent with foil.
- Add 4 tbsp cognac/brandy to the pan and stir, scraping any browned bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Return pan to medium-high heat and cook for about 20 seconds. Add cream and mustard, season with salt and pepper and cook stirring vigorously until the sauce just comes together. Stir in remaining cognac/brandy and keep warm over low heat. Slice the hanger steaks across the grain in ¼-inch pieces and drizzle sauce over top. Serve steaks garnished with parsley and black pepper. Enjoy!