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  • Writer's pictureJay Murray

Firefighters, Seals and Me

Seen here is a rare cave painting of Boston firefighters tending to a spit roasted bison (not pictured).

If you drive to Quincy, MA from the north and take a sharp left, you might find yourself at Moon Island. At least I did. It’s clearly the setting of every Dennis Lehane novel, yet curiously the setting of none. You’ll find abandoned buildings in varying states of disrepair, rusted out shipping containers, and industrial flotsam washing ashore. You’ll also find, if you have the courage to continue, the Boston Police Department Firing Range and the Boston Fire Department Training Academy. It was the latter that requested my presence.

Today I’m reminded of the many times I made the journey by yet another unsolicited recipe in my inbox: Firefighter Spaghetti. Here’s the list of ingredients in case you’re interested:

  • 12 ounces uncooked spaghetti noodles, broken in half

  • 1 (10.75-ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted

  • 1 (10.75-ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

  • 1 cup sour cream

  • 1/2 cup whole milk

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted and divided

  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

  • 2 cups part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

  • 2 celery ribs, plus more to taste, chopped

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 1 (4-ounce) can mushroom stems and pieces, drained

  • 5 cups chicken, cubed and cooked

  • 1 1/2 cups cornflakes, crushed

I imagine you make it by tossing everything in your Instant Pot and heading off to work for the day, but I didn’t read past the ingredients, so I can't be certain. One thing I can tell you though, as an honorary member of Engine 32 / Ladder 9 of the Charlestown Fire Department: it’s probably legit. That said, legitimate or not, it’s also probably not how you should stuff your gullet before hopping on the truck when the alarm sounds, which is precisely why Boston Fire requested my assistance.

I thought it would be neat to bring some seals along with me to entertain the fire troops, so we all ventured down to Moon Island for some edificating, where I learned what kids these days call a fun fact: the average Boston firefighter gains 25 pounds during their first year of service, and the department hinted to me that it might not be entirely 100% completely due to increased muscle mass.

So that's how I wound up in front of bunch of Boston's finest, with a blender, an indoor grill and a bag full of steaks. I can't recall the specifics of everything I made for them, but the general gist was that, while we all really find super rich and starchy foods immensely satisfying, we can often replace the super rich and starchy with a bit of zip and pizazz. In culinary terms, that means acidity. And one thing I do remember making for them is chimichurri.

Chimichurri is an Argentine herb sauce, possibly cousin to the Genoese pesto brought from Italy to Argentina via carrier pigeon during the main wave of Italian immigration prior to 1930. There are many variations, most green, some red, and all delicious! That last bit is unlikely, but it seemed appropriate. I wanted to stick to a basic recipe - mine - one that's already been published a bunch, but what's one more minute in the limelight gonna hurt?

I will say the firefighters were skeptical at first. I honestly think not one among them had ever considered dousing a grilled steak with a green sauce, and a surprising number were more than a bit hesitant to try. That's why I brought the SEALS. Navy SEALS. You weren't thinking the cute little beach ball buddies, were you? That would've been super cool, but I'm not at all qualified for that sort of thing. No a few Navy SEALS were in town getting their PhD's from Harvard, and, when I think about it, this whole thing may have been their idea to begin with. It's all a bit hazy now. Anyway, the firefighters reluctantly tried the chimichurri while snipers held overwatch positions, and loved it - so much so that it's now been memorialized in the Firehouse Kitchen Hall of Fame in Scranton. Or probably. You can get the recipe here.

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