The Secret to Flavorful Grilling is ... French Prunes?

At Saturday's Fairway Firefighters Food Face-off, each team was given this special import to use in their recipes.

I was honored to have been a judge in last Saturday’s hosted by in Stamford.  To say it was fun is an understatement. To say it was delicious isn’t doing Fairfield County’s bravest justice. The food was top notch. 

The face-off pitted pit masters against each other, not only for bragging rights, but for the chance to win a $500 gift card for the charity of the winner’s choice.  Normally these guys would be putting out the fires, however, on this day they were creating them. And create they did, in all their juicy and smoky glory.

The four teams  — Stamford Professional Local 786, , , and – were given their marching orders to grill up some ribs, beef burgers and turkey burgers.  The rules of the face-off allowed them to start the day before the event for marinating, smoking and other prepping techniques. However at noon on Saturday they were given a secret ingredient:  French prunes.

Yes, French prunes. Believe me, I was as surprised as the firefighters.

The French prune, or prunes d'Agen, hail from the southwest region of the country in the villages surrounding the city of Agen. Dark and glossy, these prunes are exceptionally sweet and tender. The combination of sunshine and soil along the Lot-et-Garonne river work together to produce one of France’s finest imports. They are used throughout the region as a steady part of the diet.

To fully appreciate the prune d’Agen, taste one along side a pre-packaged prune that is common on our grocery shelves. The rich, luscious flavor of the prune d’Agen will make you a convert. This is not your grandmother’s prune. 

But how did they make a most unusual appearance at the Fairway Fireman’s Face Off? Blame (or thank) Fairway’s own Steve Jenkins. Although famous for his cheese mongering, Steve travels the world to locate the finest ingredients for us to use in our own recipes. Olive oils, spices, patés, and dried fruits are just a few of his many passions. When asked why he chose to throw a dried plum the firefighters’ way, his answer was typical Steve Jenkins.

“I wanted something vegetal, but not predictable,” he explained. “Nothing common like cilantro, but something unexpected. We just received an abundance of the French prunes, so I thought, 'let’s use them.'”

For the most part, the firefighters applied the prunes as a topping to the burgers.  They made for a sweet touch to the hamburger, but it was with the turkey burger where the prunes really strutted their stuff.

Master butcher Ray Venezia, also one of the judges, explained his love of the turkey burger.

“Ground turkey is like a blank canvas,” he said.  “Because let’s face it, turkey doesn’t have nearly as much flavor as beef or lamb, so you can really dress it up with a variety of ingredients.”

Fairway sells their own turkey burgers, perfectly mixed with Peter Lugar’s steak sauce. 

“We chop and grind our own turkey in-house,” Venezia said. “While it’s grinding, we add the sauce to it.  What comes out is a flavorful meat that retains its moisture so it can stand up to the heat of the grill.”

Our neighbors from Noroton Heights chose to go Greek with their turkey, adding spinach and Feta cheese to the patties. Likewise, Stamford Professional Local 786 added a spinach mixture to their burgers.

The guys from Ridgefield took a more American approach by brushing pure maple syrup on top of thick pieces of bacon, right on the grill. A sweet/salty combo was a perfect complement to the otherwise ho-hum meat.

The men of Turn of River chose the classic sautéed onions and mushrooms for their hamburgers, but at the last minute, threw in some of the prunes to the sauté.  Firefighter Steve Rivieccio, who works for his father at in Darien, thought it would make a nice touch. He was right.

To add flavor to their turkey burgers, TOR mixed in chopped carrots, zucchini and mushrooms, then smothered them with grilled bell peppers, yellow squash and portabello mushrooms. Drizzled on top was a balsamic glaze. Take that, blank canvas!

For those unique samplings, whether it was a turkey burger or a regular beef patty, I detected an extra burst of sweetness.  Ahhh… the French prune.

All of the offerings were delicious. As a judge, I couldn’t possibly choose who made the best burgers and ribs (full disclosure: My husband’s ribs have no rivals).  But I had a job to do, and in the interest of pure diplomacy, I will say that all four firehouses won in my book (second full disclosure:  I am from Stamford).

Congratulations to Ridgefield Local 1739, and to all of our brave firefighters in Fairfield County. Well done!

Prunes d’Agen are located directly in front of the cheese department at Fairway and retail for $6.99 per pound.

Regina June 30, 2011 at 02:01 PM
Great article! Gonna have to check out those Fairway turkey burgers!


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