Flambé Story

February 2, 2009 | By | COMMENTS

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When Craig’s parents stayed with us last year for Craig’s graduation, they were very amused to come home one day to find me in the kitchen candying orange peel for no reason. “Do you just do that?” asked Julee, Craig’s mom. “Decide to make something just for the heck of it?”

Pretty much! And that’s precisely what happened last week when Craig left to rehearse a friend’s screenplay reading (a reading that actually features one of my READERS who introduced herself to Craig at the rehearsal; hi Meg!) and I decided to make bananas flambé.

My inspiration was a recipe in Jean-George pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini’s new book, “Dessert Fourpay.” His publicist sent me a copy and while the book is beautiful, I find it a bit intimidating; lots of steps and ingredients and techniques required to recreate just 1/4th of a finished plate the way he serves it at Jean-Georges. So instead of going that far, I decided just to extract the recipe for bananas flambé from the larger recipe schema to serve with yogurt and maybe some granola (remember, I’m on a health kick!).

I won’t give proportions here because my first attempt at bananas flambé didn’t turn out too well. I take most of the blame–I let the caramel burn, and, as you’ll hear in a moment, I almost burnt down my kitchen–but, as often happens when master chefs try to oversimplify a technique or a recipe, there wasn’t a lot of guidance in the text. Instead, there were pretty pictures and just a few short paragraphs which leads me to believe this book is more for the experienced pastry chef than the novice home cook.

In any case, here’s what I started with:

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That’s sugar and a pinch of salt in a non-stick skillet, 2 cut-up bananas, some butter cut into cubes, and a mug of rum. Look carefully at that mug of rum: that’s WAY too much, as you’ll find out in a moment.

So, first things first: I heated the sugar until it turned amber. Actually, what happened is I started heating it and got bored so I walked away to watch the bonus round on “Wheel of Fortune” (don’t you love the bonus round on “Wheel of Fortune?” That’s always my favorite part) when I smelled something burning. I looked back and smoke was rising from my pan of sugar; I ran to it and thought the caramel color was a beautiful dark reddish brown, not black, and that it’d be ok to proceed. But I should’ve trusted my nose: this caramel was gone.

Stupidly, then, I added the bananas and the butter and let them cook on the first side:

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After 2 minutes, I flipped the bananas over and thought they looked very pretty:

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I let them cook two minutes more and here’s where things almost turned tragic. I took the skillet off the heat, held it away from the stove, and added the rum from the mug. It made a super sizzly sound that I find very satisfying and then I did the dangerous part–the part that fancy French waiters do at fancy French restaurants to impress you–I returned the skillet to the flame and tilted it so the rum would catch fire. This all happened so fast, though, I’d hardly even started my tilt when WHOOOOSH!!!! A GIANT FLAME OF FIRE!

I mean we’re talking BIBLICAL proportions here; we’re talking David Copperfield and the Tornado of Fire:

If my face were any closer to the pan, I wouldn’t be writing this right now; I’d be wearing a mummy mask in a hospital somewhere and Eric Stoltz would be in talks to play me in the movie version of my life story.

All of this drama, you’re probably wondering: well, how did it taste?

Not good! But, mostly because of the burnt caramel. It just tasted like charred, bitter bananas in a bowl of non-fat yogurt. Yuck.

So, in conclusion, if you’d like to flambé bananas, watch your caramel carefully–don’t let it burn–and then don’t add a lot of rum. Add just a little bit–like a spoonful, not a quarter of a mugful.

And thus we conclude my Flambé Story.

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  • Farrel

    Glad to know I’m not the only person who drops what he’s doing to watch the bonus round! The rest of the show, I don’t usually watch (too much consternated screaming at the dolt who can’t solve a puzzle with only one vowel missing,) but I’ve gotta catch the last five minutes.

  • http://www.bitchinkitchen.tv Dallas from Bitchin’ Kitchen

    Despite the fact that it didn’t work out as you hoped, at least you have a healthy sense of adventure. I myself was equally terrified the first time I tried to flambé bananas. The flames shot so high I thought they would never burn out…but they did, and my eyebrows survived unscathed.

  • http://www.bitchinkitchen.tv Dallas from Bitchin’ Kitchen

    Despite the fact that it didn’t work out as you hoped, at least you have a healthy sense of adventure. I myself was equally terrified the first time I tried to flambé bananas. The flames shot so high I thought they would never burn out…but they did, and my eyebrows survived unscathed.

  • The other Craig

    When you’re in Austin, be sure to stop at Vivo and get a puffy taco—they are delicious!

    Sounds like you learned a valuable lesson about caramel. I’ve been there too–it is just sugar, but why is it so hard to throw it out and start over?! I always have to force myself to do it for some reason, even though I know it is hopeless once it burns like that. It is also hard to judge the color accurately when you’re using a darker pan like that. If you have a white silicone spatula or porcelain spoon, that works well to judge the color.

  • http://onlinepastrychef.wordpress.com/ Jenni

    Wow! Exciting times!

    I’m very disappointed that a big time pastry chef (I even saw him on the Today show a few weeks ago) didn’t explain exactly what he was doing and why and how and all the other minutiae that come naturally to folks who do this day in and day out. Plus, even if Eric Stoltz needs the work, I wouldn’t wish a stay in the Burn Unit on anyone.

    A wee tip: next time you try, and I’m sure you will, since you’re all intrepid, start with just a spoonful or two of sugar in the bottom of your skillet. Over medium heat, stir and stir with a silicone spatula until it melts and starts to color. Then add a bit more. Keep doing this until you have a lovely, uniform caramel. Doing it this way will help you to make sure that you don’t get any parts burning while other parts are still all crystal-y.

  • http://www.davidlebovitz.com David

    I’m more scared of you flambéing in a non-stick skillet. Careful! The finish isn’t meant to be heated that high. Facial hair grows back, but I think you only get two lungs. And once they’re gone, that’s it.

  • http://bakingbynumbers,wordpress.com Edd

    I had the same experience with caramel when trying to make candied almonds, i just ended up with a pile of bitter nuts.

  • http://www.mousebouche.blogspot.com A Mouse Bouche

    Hi AG! thanks for the shout out! It was so funny when craig walked in the room and i though, ‘I know that guy–no wait, it’s CRAIG as in CRAIG from AG!’ Hope you both continue to be recognized by–dare i say–fans :) Congrats to him on SXSW!

    Megan (Mouse)

  • http://www.glutire.com Guiltless Glutton

    Hmmmm….this post makes me want to try bananas flambe. I must be a glutton for punishment, in addition to food.

  • N Giordani

    Hey, Adam,

    I’ve been spending a lot of time in my boyfriend’s apartment in NJ. I noticed your stove looks (and sink, and cupboards, by the way — is that some NY-NJ thing? I’m from Brazil) exactly like his!

    I’ve only been reading the blog a few months, so I’m not sure how you feel about the stove. Personally I don’t really like it — can’t look inside, small oven, small burners, the controls are narrow-ranged…

    But now that I saw that photo I gained a whole new appreciation of the stove. I was like, “Hey, my stove is the same as the Amateur Gourmet’s!” :)

  • http://lesjoujou.blogspot.com Stephanie

    Glad you’re okay! After saying that… I laughed out loud at this post! Hilarious.

  • jayne

    Not so long ago I attended a Halloween party, when we rang the door bell, the host greeted us with no eye brows. You gueesed it, flambe gone very very bad!!!!!

  • http://smallkitchenbigideas.wordpress.com Sara

    Glad you didn’t burn down your apartment.

    A few months ago my sister and I were making dulce de leche and we managed to set it on fire. There wasn’t even any alcohol involved!

  • auntjone

    Caramel is an evil bitch. I long to make good, hell, EDIBLE homemade caramels (you know, the chewy sticky kind that you wrap in buttered wax paper and hand out to people and they say OMG you MADE these?!?!) but everytime I try it turns out harder than a brick bat.

    Glad you didn’t set fire to anything. Better luck next time.

  • http://cookingandkitchenstories.blogspot.com Kate

    I’m glad you survived, that being said, I have to say it always makes me feel a little better about my disasters to hear that someone else experiences similar things. I never lost my eyebrows, but I did lose all my eyelashes once from a gas oven exploding!

  • http://cookingandkitchenstories.blogspot.com Kate

    I’m glad you survived, that being said, I have to say it always makes me feel a little better about my disasters to hear that someone else experiences similar things. I never lost my eyebrows, but I did lose all my eyelashes once from a gas oven exploding!

  • http://www.inmybook.com Robin

    Glad you managed to take a picture and write a story before all hell broke loose. Question, do you have a smoke detector in your kitchen? That might be a good idea.

  • Mer

    I love wheel of fortune!

  • http://angrybrit.com Angry Brit

    It could have been worse. I set fire to my kitchen a few years ago when I was making a pan sauce with Jack Daniels. I did what you did- added the alcohol to the pan, tipped it to the flame, there was a giant fireball, and it set the filter in my extractor fan on fire. That was about as much fun as you might imagine.