Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why They Carry 343 Flags: A Special Firehouse Recipe from Cleo Coyle

If you come to New York City on St. Patrick's Day, this is what you'll see: members of the FDNY carrying 343 flags in the annual parade. Why 343? Because 11 years ago on this day, 343 members of New York City's Fire Department responded to their last alarm; 343 ran in while others rushed out; 343 left for work that morning and never came home.

Other heroes gave their lives that day, too, including first responding police officers, paramedics, bystanders, and office workers. More people perished on the hijacked planes; in the wreckage at the Pentagon; and a field in Pennsylvania.

We honor them today, pausing to remember not only how they died, but how they lived.

A recipe might seem a trivial thing today, but below is a very special recipe from a working firehouse captain, one of an army of men and women across our nation who put their lives on the line for others, if necessary, every day. 

This "Fast Truck Chicken" recipe first appeared in a cookbook that was sold a few years ago to raise money for a firefighter's fund named in honor of Terry Farrell, one of those 343 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. I bought a number of copies, and I'm happy to share one of the delicious recipes in that cookbook with you today.

If that book were still available, I'd share a link for purchasing it and give one away this week. Unfortunately, it's no longer in print, but I have another idea to help raise money in memory of those 343.


The FDNY runs a store called The Fire Zone to earn funds for its non-profit Foundation. 

I was happy to make a contribution in the form of a little comment giveaway on this post. The prize was the T-shirt pictured left. If you would like to buy one for yourself, I'm happy to share this link to the official store of our amazing New York City Fire Department.

And now for today's recipe...

Fast Truck (Firehouse)
Chicken Casserole

Today's recipe is adapted from one by Captain Jim Colston of the San Marcos Firefighters, San Marcos, California

From Captain Colston: "When I first started as a firefighter, I still lived at home, like a lot of us firefighters did when we started out, so I could only cook things from a box. This is a real quick meal that we created from leftovers one night when we didn’t have a lot to spend. It’s a fast meal to make, which is nice when you’re busy at the station."

From Cleo: The recipe that follows is my adaption of the captain's recipe. Why did I have to "adapt" it? Because the captain's original portions were huge! The funny thing is, he claimed his original recipe would "Serve 4." Oh, sure, 4 firefighters maybe. For us mortals, however, the amounts were more like serves 12. I halved it and got a serving of 6, added a bit more detail, including oven temperatures and time, a tweak on the ingredients for better flavor, and quickie directions on cooking chicken breasts, if needed.

This is an especially useful recipe for leftover chicken and turkey. (You might want to hold on to this one for your Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing leftovers.) I hope you enjoy it as much as Marc and I do.

For a PDF copy of this recipe that you can print, save, or share, hit the Print Friendly button at the end of this post.

Serves 6


2 whole chicken breasts, chopped (about 2 pounds or 4 cups cooked, chopped chicken; you can also use turkey)

1 12-ounce box of chicken or turkey stuffing (or 6 cups of leftover stuffing)

1 14-ounce can of chicken broth or stock

1-2 tablespoons butter or margarine

4 slices cooked ham, quartered (or six slices of round breakfast ham or
Canadian bacon)

8 ounces pepper jack cheese (deli slices or block cheese)*

*Note: If you don't care for spicy flavor, substitute any mild cheese that melts easily: e.g., Monterey Jack, Colby-Jack, mozzarella, or a young Provolone or Asiago.

Step 1 - You can use leftover chicken or turkey for this recipe; rotisserie chicken; or roast or grill your chicken breasts fresh. To roast raw chicken breasts, sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning; place them in a greased shallow pan; and cook them for about 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 325 degrees F. Do not overcook or your chicken will be dry. Chop up the cooked chicken and set aside.

Step 2Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a shallow 8 x 12-inch glass dish or casserole pan with butter or margarine. In a large bowl, mix together the stuffing and broth. If you roasted chicken specifically for this dish, I suggest adding the pan drippings to the stuffing bowl for even more good flavor. Pour the stuffing into the pan. Using the back of a large spoon, press it into an even layer, and bake until the top is crispy and brown, about 20 minutes.

Step 3 - Spread the cooked chicken evenly on top of the cooked stuffing. Arrange the ham slices on top of the chicken and return it to the hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove the pan once more and cover it evenly with the cheese slices (or shredded block cheese). Bake for 10 more minutes, until cheese is mostly melted. Finish under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.

This chicken casserole is delicious served with sweet corn and a salad. May you eat it with joy.

F o o d i e


T-shirt back
T-shirt front
A commenter on this post  won this official FDNY Fire Zone T-shirt, S-XXL, proceeds of which went to the non-profit FDNY Foundation.

To visit the
FDNY Foundation
Web site, please click here.

FDNY Fire Zone is operated by the FDNY Foundation, the official non-profit of the New York City Fire Department. Donations to the Foundation help the Department in educating, informing and involving the public in protecting life and property, and support the Department's operational requirements.


  1. The recipe starts out like my Holiday Leftover casserole that my daughter likes better than the original meal itself. Dressing base, chopped turkey and leftover gravy, top with leftover mashed potatoes (that is the one leftover ingredient I may be short of!) Top with shredded colby or cheddar cheese and bake until bubbly. Tastes great with that leftover cranberry sauce!

  2. thanks for the recipe and the story Cleo--we should always remember...

    JudyMac--yours sounds delicious! will have to double the mashed potatoes and gravy next time:)

  3. What a special recipe to share on today as we remember all those we lost on that day. I think my family will love this recipe.

  4. Lucy- I just bought your books for my Kindle. I can't wait to start on them, just as soon as I finish Sheila's "Sour Apples"! NursePrac JudyMac

  5. Thank you for this moving tribute, Cleo. I doubt anyone alive will forget that day, but it is important to stop to remember the men and women who didn't come home.

  6. Lovely post, Cleo. I had no idea about the flags. What a wonderful gesture to remember those they lost.

    Wow. This recipe could feed lumberjacks! Sounds delicious!

    ~ Krista

  7. Thanks for another mouth-watering recipe. And especially, thank you for the moving tribute to firefighters and police officers. Having been through a house fire and 9/11 as a Mass. resident, they are truly heroes to me.

  8. Thank you for a beautiful tribute, Cleo. I was still in NJ on 9/11 and we could see the smoke from the towers in our little town. There were quite a few cars left in the train station parking lot that night--men and women who would never be coming home to claim them.

    Great recipe for feeing hungry appetites! Must try this one.

  9. Both versions of the recipe have been printed and are just waiting for Thanksgiving---they may make the day after Thanksgiving even better than the holiday itself.

  10. The recipe sounds wonderful and I can't wait to try it out. I pray we never have to experience the horror of September 11, 2001 again but that we do remember the feelings of pride in our country that we felt on September 12, 2001.

  11. Thanks for the recipe, and especially for the tribute. Last month, when we were driving through southern Pennsylvania, Hubby and I visited the Flight 93 Memorial. What heroes those folks were!

  12. Recipe looks great! I will try this later in the Fall. Thank you. Dee

  13. Cleo, what a lovely tribute! I could barely wake without tears in my eyes today from the memory. The tragedy brought sadness to America and the world.

    On the other hand, today is also my son's anniversary. He and his bride chose this day to get married so they could make good memories override the past.

    Double tears for me.

    Love this recipe. It's so casual and yet so yummy sounding.

    Hugs for our recovering nation.

    ~Daryl aka Avery

  14. Iam thankful to see some still remember the significance of this day. But of course firefighters are heros everyday!

  15. What a beautiful tribute to our heroes. We will never forget! The recipe looks delicious and I can't wait to try it!

  16. This sounds great. Thanks for the recipe and the tribute, Cleo.

  17. Thank you for honoring those whose lives were lost, including 13 from my husband's family and classmates.

  18. Thank you for the wonderful post. I enjoyed it so much. I did know some of those who lost their lives.
    debby236 at gmail dot com

  19. My son will LOVE this recipe...I can't wait for him to visit. One thing I will change is to use a Chinese method to produce the chicken inst4ead of roasting. It's never dry. You put the chicken breasts in a frying pan, cover it with cool water, cover and heat until boiling (about 5-7 minutes). Then you turn off the burner, leave the lid on and leave it for about 30 minutes. Poached chicken is perfect and ready for this recipe or chicken salad or whatever.

  20. Dustin and James are fighting fires here in Oregon. Prayers for their safety and that they get the fires contained. Firefighters rock!

  21. Will be making this next week when the kids come for dinner. Thanks for such a great recipe!

  22. How timely...will make for Emergency Joe's birthday tomorrow Sept. 17th...thanks...from geekette and new hubby

  23. I can't wait to try this. I love recipes like this for the fall and winter. I'll be sure to serve up a prayer along with it. It is wonderful for you to pay such a heartfelt tribute to our firefighters who really put it all on the line.

  24. Lovely post Cleo! Looks like you have provided me with another recipe to add to my growing collection!!

  25. What a great recipe! I can't wait to try it! Thanks for giving me another great recipe for my collection!

  26. This looks really good. You know some people are surprised on how well firemen can cook. They tend to be really skilled in the kitchen.

  27. What a wonderful sounding dish. I would use regular bacon and add more cheese. I think my kids might even eat this one.

  28. I would love this cookbook! We have several firefighters/paramedics in our family and yes, they do have large appetites! I can't wait to try this recipe out for our annual hunting party...big hungry fellas who tromp around the forest for fun. I love the coffee house murder series, I listen to them on my ipod as I work around the farm. Thanks for the opportunity!

  29. I didn't know the FDNY had a store, that is a great way to raise funds.
    This casserole reminds me of a similar one I had years ago. We were making up dishes to use left over food from a holiday meal. And it was delicious.

  30. This looks perfect for "leftovers" which really should be "planned-overs." Can't wait to try it.

  31. Just looking at all those flags made me tear up! I am now scheming a vegetarian take on this recipe--the combination of stuffing and pepper jack is irresistible!

  32. Living in California and Texas, 9/11 was mainly abstract to me until I went home to NJ a couple years ago, and saw the memorial in Atlantic Highlands. An eagle holding a chunk of I-beam. The names of those lost from
    That community. A timeline of events etched into a meditation walk. And across the water, if you know just where to look, The gleam Of Lady Liberty's torch. All those brave firefighters and cops and those who died ate in my heart.

  33. may we never forget....
    jcpautler at hotmail dot com