Test Kitchen tips: Flambé
Flambéing is the act of burning, or "flaming," off the alcohol in a food by igniting it. Whether done tableside at a fine restaurant or over your own stove as you prepare a dish, it can make for a dramatic presentation.
In addition to burning off the alcohol, flambéing also caramelizes the sugars in a liquor or liqueur, which can enhance and deepen the flavors in a finished dish. The technique is used in both sweet and savory recipes, even in cocktails.
Always take care when you flambé a dish, or whenever you add alcohol to a recipe near a flame -- alcohol can ignite almost instantaneously, bursting into a "poof" of flame. Be careful not to have any loose clothing or hair near where you are working, and keep anything flamable out of the way.
To flambé, take your pan off the burner before adding the alcohol (this also goes for deglazing a pan -- never add alcohol over or near a flame), then move your pan back over the burner flame to ignite the alcohol. You can ignite the alcohol by gently shaking the pan over the burner (the friction will help the alcohol ignite) or tipping the pan very gently over the flame until the alcohol catches on fire, but it is safest to use a long match or lighter and quick reflexes.
Finally, keep the pan lid or a large cookie sheet nearby so you can cover the pan to extinguish the flame if it gets out of hand.
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-- Noelle Carter
Photo credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times