Technique: Flambé

This is the first in an ongoing series of technique videos I’ll be posting, giving short tips and important details on everything from (obviously) flambéing to broiling to marinating. The accompanying recipe, in this case bananas flambé, will be posted two days after the original technique video. Consider this a teaser, and a good video to watch if you ever want to try a flambé recipe of your own.

Flambéing is a technique that many cooks have different opinions about. America’s Test Kitchen, for example, claims that it burns off 80% of the alcohol, as well as caramelizing the sauce and adding deeper flavor. Harold McGee, on the other hand, claims it only burns off 20% of the alcohol. There’s an undergrad research paper from Cornell University which even states that flambéing adds no significant browning reactions, and that simmering the same ingredients for the same length gives the same effect. At the end of the day, I’ve found it adds minor browning to the tops of the bananas, and it’s an impressive technique to show off to my friends. Cooking should be fun, and lighting stuff on fire is definitely fun.

Now, a little about the practice of flambeing. Safety first. Be careful, know what you’re doing, and go slowly.

Practical tips:
  1. Mise en place. Measure out your alcohol. Tie hair back. Turn off exhaust fan. Turn off the burner.
  2. Use a shallow pan, preferably with flared sides to allow better oxygen flow and a higher chance of ignition.
  3. Ignite at arms reach with a bbq lighter or long wooden match.
  4. Ignite the edge, not the center.
  5. Alcohol ignites best if both food and alcohol are warm. Get pan very hot, remove from heat, add alcohol, cook 5-10 seconds.
  6. Keep the pan lid nearby to cover pan to extinguish flame if a flare-up occurs. Better yet, keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen.
  7. For meat, use at least 1oz. liquor per serving of meat. For desserts, sprinkle granulated sugar on top before adding the alcohol to the pan.
Why should I flambé:
It removes some of the alcohol in the sauce, followed shortly by the more of the alcohol while briefly simmering, for a sauce that has a hint of alcohol, but isn’t pure alcohol.
According to America’s Test Kitchen, caramelization occurs at 300 degrees, and simmering is at about 180 degrees, whereas the flame causes temperatures in excess of 500 degrees. Therefore this technique will caramelization some of the sugars in the sauce, creating richer, deeper flavor.
The high heat causes molecules to isomeic each, reconfiguring them for improved solubility and changing their flavor.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • SallyBR March 15, 2017, 5:19 pm

    Loved the music and the text along with the video… great job! Bananas flambadas (in Portuguese) are super popular in Brazil, although we also love mango flambe – you should try that too… I have it on the blog, if I remember correctly

  • Sandra March 18, 2017, 12:28 pm

    I love bananas foster but am just a little afraid of the fire part. Your safety tip make me feel better about trying it again!

    • Cooking Madly March 18, 2017, 12:45 pm

      Thank you, and good luck!