Flambé cooking is probably one of the most fascinating and romantic, able to conquer everyone for its spectacularity and to give the dish a special taste: with fire you can’t joke, however, and therefore it is essential to learn how to cook flambé so as not to make risky mistakes.
What flambé means
Let’s start with the definition: in French flambé means flaming, and the flame is the main characteristic of this type of cooking that concludes the preparation of a dish by pouring liqueurs or spirits based on alcohol on food in the pan, to generate precisely this flaming effect.
The history of flambé cooking
The origins of flambé come from practical reasons, i.e. the need to heat ready meals or in any case to keep warm the dishes served at the table, and in the past we used a special lamp. Over time, then, the technique has been used to amaze diners with the effect of the living flame, finding widespread use in luxury restaurants and large hotels as an example of mastery of the chefs.
The true story of flambé cooking and Suzette crepes
One episode in particular has gone down in history and has sanctioned both the celebration of the flamboyant technique and the birth of a cake famous throughout the world: at the end of the nineteenth century, the Prince of Wales and future British King Edward VII arrives with his companion at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo. It’s late at night and the kitchens are closed, but the prince waits for a dessert and the Chef Henry Carpentier decides to focus on the surprise effect: he brings a pan with a little batter to the table, flooded with alcohol (Grand Marnier, probably) and sets the mixture on fire with the aforementioned lamp. The prince is enthusiastic about the show, but also about the taste of the cake, and quickly baptizes it with the name of his companion, or Suzette, thus sanctioning the birth of the crepe Suzette.
How to cook with flambé
Let’s now return to the topic of our guide with some practical tips for flambé cooking: Let’s start with the tools needed for the technique, i.e. a low pan (copper or stainless steel is indifferent), preferably equipped with a long handle and able to maintain the right temperature for flaming; a well-fitting lid to be kept ready in case of too high flames; a classic or portable cooker, if we want to create the effect directly on the table; a long barbecue lighter or a very long match to light the liqueur in the pan, a glass or a small glass jug and, of course, the alcohol.
What alcohol to use for flambé
We have included a pitcher or a glass among the essential elements because it is essential never to pour the alcohol directly from the bottle because it is highly flammable and dangerous. It is also important that the alcohol has an alcohol content of about 40 °, because those with higher alcohol content are too flammable, those with lower alcohol content may not catch fire: no beer or wine for the flambé, therefore. The choice between liqueurs for the flame effect can be made between rum, vodka, cognac, armagnac, calvados, gin and brandy, according to your tastes, the tone you want to give to the dish and the characteristics of the dishes; for example, whisky and cognac go well with salty dishes, while brandies, especially fruity, go better with fruit and flambé dessert.
What dishes to prepare with flambé
The flambé cooking technique can be used for first courses, second courses and desserts, and therefore for both savoury and sweet preparations; generally, in savoury dishes, the flambatura takes place during cooking, while for desserts, the fiammata concludes the operation and gives the final touch to the recipe. It is advisable to prepare only one dish to be served with the flambé method for each occasion. Among the first courses, both types of pasta and rice can be flambéed, but the list of second courses is much wider.
How to prepare meat and fish with flambé
Among the second courses flambé there are recipes both meat and fish, suitable ingredients adapt to this type of cuisine, with some elements to take into account. In general, meat gains a more refined perfume and an intense taste; it is necessary to prefer small and more aromatic pieces, while for the origin you can opt for beef, veal, lamb or even poultry, game and game, softening with the flambé technique the typical strong taste of these foods. Among the fish, however, are suitable fillets and slices, while as crustaceans there are recipes of prawns or scampi flambé.
Moving on to the recipes of the flambé desserts, we start with the fruit: the inflamed alcohol is perfect for bananas, pineapples or even figs, oranges and apples, to be served with creams and ice creams. We have already mentioned the crepes Suzette as a symbol of sweet flambé, but you can find many interesting and original ideas for preparing delicious and amazing dishes.
The process of flambé cooking
Flambé cooking is based, as we have said, on wetting a preparation with alcohol, thus making the compound flammable and creating a flame that runs out more or less quickly. The flame can be made in two different ways, that is by direct contact of the vapours with the cooking flame (which is obtained by slightly tilting the pan forward) or by direct combustion in the container (using a match to light the liquid). The liqueur must already be hot (it is recommended to heat it in a saucepan), otherwise the boiling temperature of the ethanol is not reached (about 80 degrees), and even the dishes must be very hot so as not to cool the alcohol.
Tips for the perfect flambé
There are a few important steps and precautions to take to properly perform flambé cooking and prevent the fire from spreading in a risky manner. First of all, never keep a close distance from the pan, paying attention to keep hair, fabrics or inflammable objects away. It is also essential not to pour liquor directly on the flames and always use small doses of alcohol: in addition to the glass mentioned above, for sweets you can use sugar lumps soaked.
The last suggestion concerns the effect of the flame on food, which is not to be forgotten: the alcohol contained in the liqueur evaporates, but the preparations take on the characteristic burnished color that offers a special flavor to the food. Finally, a rule to remember: the preparation should be consumed only after the flame has died out naturally.