Recipe Rescue: Cooking a firehouse classic
I recently celebrated 22 years on the job with Waterloo Fire Rescue. It’s hard to believe how fast time has passed! I still love this career as much as I did the day I started back in 1999. So many aspects of the fire service and my department have changed since then. It is easy to see in our call volume, the way we respond to emergencies, the way we train, in our safety protocols and even in our culture. Despite all the changes one thing that can still be counted on as a firehouse tradition is the classic celebratory meal. Yes, it is a firehouse tradition from the day you start; when you pass your first year probation and every increment after that, when you celebrate a birthday or work anniversary, receive a promotion, or when you just want to treat your crew; you cook them (and pay!) for a really nice meal.
The importance of that meal goes back generations and you could ask any firefighter across North America and the odds are the meal would be the same: the classic firehouse steak and potatoes. Of course, some variations occur from station to station (how you cook the steak, how you top the steak, what potato dish are you going for?) but the meat and potatoes (pun intended!) will always remain the same. Let’s slice a little deeper into this firehouse classic and chat about my favorite way to cook a steak and the best spuds to go along with it.
You got to love the kind of dinner that you can cook without a recipe. The truth is, good cooking is more about technique than recipes and the best dishes are often the simplest to prepare. That is what a properly pan seared steak is. With just a few ingredients and a single pan, you can cook a steak that’s as delicious as one you’d order in a high-end steakhouse. The key is knowing how to pan-sear. Pan-searing is a classic technique in which the surface of the food is cooked undisturbed in a very hot pan until a crisp, golden-brown, flavourful crust forms. It’s the key to building flavour and texture in a dish, it also prevents sticking and gives your food a restaurant-quality look.
Pan-searing is the absolute best way to cook a steak (along with most other meats) and it just so happens to be the easiest. When it comes to cooking steak in a pan, the best candidates for pan-searing are quick-cooking cuts about one-and-a-half inches thick, such as New York strip, rib eye or filet.
To begin, pat the steak dry with paper towels. Any moisture on the exterior of the steak will not allow the steak to brown and achieve the crisp crust. Season the steaks generously (and I mean generously) on both sides with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper; the seasoning will stick to the surface and help create a delicious crust. Massage it in a little. Turn on your exhaust fan and heat a heavy pan over medium-high heat until it’s VERY hot. The best pans for pan-searing are stainless steel or cast-iron since they can withstand high temperatures. Add just a splash of oil to the pan. You’ll know it’s hot enough when it begins to shimmer and move fluidly around the pan. Carefully set the steak in the pan, releasing it away from you so the oil doesn’t splatter in your direction. It should sizzle. (Use a pan that is large enough that it’s not such a tight fit or the pan will cool and your food will steam instead of sear.) Here is a secret; leave it alone! Avoid the temptation to peek or fiddle or flip repeatedly. The steaks need a few minutes undisturbed to develop a brown crust. (Don’t worry about sticking; the steaks will release easily when they are ready to flip.) Flip the steaks when they release easily and the bottom is a deep-brown color (usually about 3-5 minutes). Continue to cook the steaks for another 3 to 4 minutes on the bottom side for rare or medium-rare. During the last minute of cooking, add a couple tablespoons of butter and a few sprigs of fresh thyme to the pan with the steaks. Continually baste the steaks with the butter and thyme during the last minute of cooking until you transfer them to a cutting board and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
Potatoes are the ultimate comfort food whether they’re baked, fried, mashed, au gratin… they belong with a steak! Steak frites may be my all time favorite dish, but while writing this article I’m really craving the ultimate double baked potato to go alongside a perfectly cooked steak. The combination of a good baked potato stuffed with creamy mashed potatoes and all the fixings is hard to resist. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your double baked potato:
- While any potato will work, Russet potatoes are the best. The thick skin holds up well to stuffing and the potato itself is starchy and fluffy which makes for a great mash.
- Mash the potatoes while warm for the best consistency.
- Sour cream and butter along with a splash of cream or milk will add just enough moisture to mash.
- I like to add 1/4 cup spreadable cream cheese (any flavour, herb and garlic is a favorite)
- Don’t overmix because the mash will turn gummy so mix just until fluffy.
- Be sure to leave at least 1/8 to 1/4 of a potato skin so the skins don’t break or crack.
- I always bake a couple extra potatoes in case one of the skins breaks. You also then have extra potatoes for extra filling.
- Add bacon, jalapenos, caramelized onions, crunched potato chips, fresh herbs, green onion, roasted garlic…whatever you want to make your filling your own and exciting!
- Once your potato skins are stuffed, top with some shredded cheese of your choice.
- Stuffed potatoes can be frozen or refrigerated. To bake frozen potatoes, add an extra 15-20 minutes to the baking time.
Think of my recipe as merely a guideline to make these your own!
Traditions in the firehouse that last generations are usually for a reason. Steak, potatoes and the firehouse go together like, well, steak and potatoes! Enjoy my friends, and I look forward to cooking this celebratory meal in my firehouse for many more years to come! Hope you will as well. Eat well and stay safe!
Ultimate Double Baked Potatoes
- 8 baking potatoes, washed
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 sticks salted butter
- 1lb bacon, cooked and cut into bits
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup old Cheddar or Pepper Jack cheese (or a mix of both), plus more for topping
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons seasoned salt
- 3 green onions, sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place the potatoes on a baking sheet. Rub them with the canola oil and bake for 1 hour, making sure they’re sufficiently cooked through.
- Slice the butter into pats. Place in a large mixing bowl and add the bacon bits and sour cream. Remove the potatoes from the oven. Lower the heat to 350 degrees F.
- With a sharp knife, cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scrape out the insides into the mixing bowl, being careful not to tear the shell. Leave a small rim of potato intact for support. Lay the hollowed out potato shells on a baking sheet.
- Smash the potatoes into the butter, bacon and sour cream. Add the cheese, milk, seasoned salt, green onions and black pepper to taste and mix together well. (IMPORTANT: If you plan to freeze the twice-baked potatoes, do NOT add the green onions.)
- Fill the potato shells with the filling. I like to fill the shells so they look abundant and heaping. Top each potato with a little more grated cheese and pop ‘em in the oven until the potato is warmed through, 15 to 20 minutes. Enjoy!
Patrick Mathieu is an acting captain at Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He was featured on Food Network’s Chopped Canada. Contact Patrick at email@example.com or @StationHouseCCo.