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There is nothing more theatrical than a chef setting your dessert alight with a burst of flames tableside at the end of dinner. Flambéing provides a dramatic effect—hypnotic flames skipping across swirls of a meringue or spreading over caramelized bananas in a sweet rum sauce. This impressive cooking technique imparts a subtle liquor flavor that compliments desserts and savory sauces.



What Does Flambé Mean?

Flambé is the French word for “flamed” or “flaming. Liquor is poured over food and ignited, leaving behind the subtle flavor of the liquor or liqueur without the lingering flavor of alcohol. The technique is used for its caramelization flavor as well as its exciting tableside flair.

You’ll find it commonly used in classic dessert recipes such as bananas foster: a decadent dish originally from New Orleans that is made with cooked bananas, cinnamon, brown sugar, banana liqueur, and rum. After the dish is flambéd, it's topped with vanilla ice cream.

Flambé in 4 Easy Steps: Learn How to Safely Flambé

Set aside all your equipment before starting, you’ll need: an 80-proof liquor, a saucepan, a large skillet or flambé pan, and long matches or a long lighter.

  1. Heat the liquor in a saucepan until bubbles begin to form (around 130ºF). Do not bring liquor to a boil, as it will burn off the raw alcohol needed to ignite the dish.
  2. Pour the warmed liquor into a skillet filled with whatever you're flambéing, standing at a safe distance from the stove, ignite immediately with a long match or lighter.
  3. Gently shake your now-flaming pan to evenly distribute the alcohol. Let cook until the flames disappear. The alcohol vapor generally burns off by itself in a few seconds.
  4. Serve immediately.
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6 Tips for Flambéing

  1. Select the appropriate alcohol. Use an 80-proof liquor or liqueur (40 percent alcohol) for flambéing. Look for liquors that compliment the dish being cooked, such as whiskey and cognac for meats and flavored brandies for desserts and fruits.
  2. Use the right skillet. Make sure your skillet can withstand a high heat, such as stainless steel. Avoid using non-stick pans or aluminum, otherwise you may damage the pan.
  3. Warm the alcohol. The alcoholic beverage needs to be warmed over medium heat before igniting. Heating the liquor causes the vapor pressure to increase, helping the catch fire more easily.
  4. Light right away. Do not wait too long to light the alcohol, the food shouldn’t absorb too much alcohol flavor or you’ll taste too much in your final dish.
  5. Use a long fireplace match or long lighter. Safety comes first and it's best to use a long match or long lighter to distance yourself from the flame. Find a safe place to light away from guests and flammable objects.
  6. Keep a lid nearby. The open flame will naturally extinguish on its own, but keep a large lid nearby in case you need to smother any jumping flames.

11 Best Alcohols for Flambéing

Liquors and liqueurs with a high alcohol content must be used to flambé foods. Those with a higher proof will ignite more easily. Look for anything between 80 and 120 proof (about 40 percent alcohol), as anything above 120 proof is highly flammable—you don’t want to lose your eyebrows!

Beer, table wines, and champagne have too low of an alcohol content and will not work for this technique. The best alcohols for flambéing are:

  1. Cognac
  2. Dark Rum
  3. Brandy
  4. Bourbon
  5. Whisky
  6. Kirsch
  7. Grand Marnier
  8. Tia Maria
  9. Amaretto
  10. Cointreau
  11. Triple Sec

12 Classic Flambé Dishes

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  1. Bananas Foster: A dessert with bananas sautéed in a spiced sugar-rum mixture that is flambéd to make a buttery rum sauce. It is often topped with vanilla ice cream.
  2. Crêpes Suzette: A dessert of crêpes covered in an orange liqueur sauce that is flambéd, leaving behind a subtle toasty, complex flavor.
  3. Lobster l’Americaine: Lobster simmered in tomato sauce with shallots, garlic, tarragon, and thyme, then flamed in cognac to enrich the luxurious dish.
  4. Christmas Pudding: A classic British holiday dessert with dried fruits, nuts, and spices. Brandy, rum, or whiskey can be poured over it and flambéd to add a rich flavor to the dish.
  5. Bombe Alaska: A layered dessert of ice cream, cake, and meringue. Rum is poured over the top of the meringue, and then lit on fire to toast the meringue.
  6. Steak Diane: A pan-fried steak served with a sauce made from pan juices. Brandy, sherry, or Madeira are used to deglaze the pan and form the base of the pan sauce.
  7. Flaming Drinks: Flammable alcohol is added to the top of a cocktail—often tiki drinks, like scorpion bowls—and ignited for presentation.
  8. Cherries Jubilee: A dessert with cherries and liqueur, which is flambéd to add a depth of flavor. The sauce is served over vanilla ice cream.
  9. Greek Cheese Saganaki: An appetizer, or meze, of fried cheese that is splashed with brandy and flambéd for presentation.
  10. Coq Au Vin: Chicken braised in wine, lardons, and mushrooms that is flambéd with cognac for a flavorful sauce.
  11. Fish Flambé: A whole roasted fish flambéd with Pernod for a subtle anise flavor.
  12. Chicken Suprême: Chef Gordon Ramsay’s take produces a moist chicken breast with a brandy flambé.

Learn more culinary techniques in Chef Gordon Ramsay’s MasterClass.