The word Flambé is one that creates the impression of an extravagant and difficult to prepare meal. Many chefs stray away from desserts or meals that are prepared using this method because they fear that is simply an art that is too difficult to master. That or they are afraid they might accidentally burn down the house.
Flambé (which means flaming when translated in French) is one of the best ways to add an additional layer of flavor to your meal. The flambé method allows the chef to incorporate a flavor of the liqueur without having the harsh bite of alcohol remaining. This can be an effective method for meals ranging from meats to desserts and can create a very beautiful presentation when used in front of guests.
The first step when flambéing is to choose the liqueur to pair with your meal. You will want to use a brandy or high proof liqueur. It is best to choose a liqueur that is 80 proof; as anything containing a higher proof is viewed as too unstable for the flaming process and can yield explosive results (literally). However, liqueurs that are of a lower proof run the risk of not igniting when held to the flame. It is best to add a liqueur that resembles the flavor of the fruit or meat being prepared. A cognac or whiskey can compliment the flavor of a meat and will create a complexity that is hard to rival with other cooking methods.
Next heat the brandy or liqueur in a small sauce pan with high sides as most recipes will call for little more then 4 oz of liqueur (approximately ½ cup). You will want to heat the sauce pan until bubbles begin to form around the edges. This will happen as the liqueur reaches its boiling point of 175 degrees which is much lower then water (212 degrees).
At the same time in a separate pan heat the food that you are planning on flambéing. If the food is not warm when the liqueur is added you run the risk of cooling the liqueur too much and it may not light. It is important when using a gas stove not to poor the liqueur directly from the bottle over the stove as the flame can chase up the bottle and explode, which would not be a good thing. While flambéing can impress your guests a trip to the hospital can also impress them as well, just not in a way you were hoping for.
When both the liqueur and food have reached their temperatures simply add the liqueur from the sauce pan. If you are using a gas stove be prepared as the flame may ignite the fumes and begin the flambé process. If you are using an electric stove or the flame does not light the alcohol as it is added simply use a long lighter or match (like you would use for your fireplace) to begin the flaming process.
From here, simply let it cook until the flame has disappeared which signifies the burning off of the alcohol. As the flame burns simply move the pan in a back and forth motion being careful not to spill the contents over the side of the pan to ensure the burning off of all the alcohol. When finished, remove from the heat and serve immediately as most flambé recipes are meant to be served hot!