Whether it’s to impress guests at a dinner party, or to celebrate with family, whipping up a meal is an essential art these days. But thanks to the popularity of the endless seasons of Masterchef on TV, you can no longer get away with just a decent biryani or pasta. To really make an impression and prove your culinary skills, you need to bring some dramatic flair into the kitchen. And it doesn’t stop at innovative plating or fancy garnishing – think dishes that will cause diners to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ – like a flambé!

The art of flambéing is believed to have been invented in the late 19{+t}{+h} century when a waiter accidentally set fire to a pan of Crepe Suzette and noticed that burning the sauce affected its flavour in a peculiar way. Whether this story is true or just part of culinary lore, the art of infusing food with alcohol that is set on fire giving it a unique taste works well for desserts as well as for meat.

The term flambé is French for ‘flaming’ or ‘flamed’, and the technique requires more expertise and care than other kinds of cooking – you are, after all, literally playing with fire. First, only liqueurs with high alcohol content will work, which rules out popular ones like beer, champagne and most wines. An alcohol content level of 40 per cent or more is mandatory for proper flambéing. For desserts, brandy or rum with fruit flavouring is ideal, while for meats, cognac or whiskeys are a better choice.

To flambé a dish, the liquor needs to be warmed or heated, but not so high that it reaches its boiling point. Boiling will cause the alcohol to evaporate and the dish will not light up. Once warm, the alcohol can be poured into a small pan or ladle and tilted into a fire so that it lights up. Make sure that you tilt the side that is facing away from you into the fire, as a safety precaution. The light blue flames will envelop the alcohol and now it can be poured over the dish. Allow it to cook until all the flames have disappeared and serve only once the flames have been extinguished. To retain some of the flavour of the alcohol, cover the dish with a large pan to extinguish the flames, since this will keep all the alcohol from burning away.

This method of cooking, however impressive to behold, isn’t just about the showmanship. Flambéing is a great way to add the flavour of the liquor to the dish but without the harshness that is characteristic of raw alcohol. Flambeing is also popularly used to make sauces and as a part of dishes before they are brought to the table. So whether its rum you’re adding to a fruity dessert or tequila to some marinated prawns, the options are limitless and if you’re open to experimenting, flambéing is a great way to enhance your culinary skills.

Tips:

- Practice flambéing before putting on a performance for your guests.

- Do not flambé close to where guests are seated and make sure you clear your workspace of flammable items before you start

- Heat the liquor on a low flame to ensure that it does not ignite too early

- A dark room will provide a dramatic setting for flambéing, but do not try this the first time you attempt to flambé

- Keep a pot lid handy in case you need to smother some flames

Prawn flambé Cajun style

Ingredients:

450 g raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined (25-30 count)

4 clove garlic, minced

30 ml olive oil

50 g red onion, diced

50 ml tequila

1 bunch coriander chopped

30 g cajun seasoning

250 ml heavy cream

150 g goat cheese

salt and pepper

Method:

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet.

2. Add shrimp and cook 1 minute on each side.

3. Add garlic and onion, stirring continuously for 1 minute.

4. Next, add tequila and coriander and flambé until flame subsides.

5. Stir in the cream and turn heat down to medium-low. Add cajun seasoning and then take shrimp out and set aside while sauce thickens.

6. Check sauce for flavour, and add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Place shrimp in a baking dish, cover with sauce and then top with cheese.

8. Place in 180 degree oven for 5 minutes. Garnish with whole cilantro leaves if desired and serve immediately.

Fruit Timbale with Zabaglione

Ingredients:

Water melon - 40gms

Kiwi - 15gms

Muskmelon - 15gms

Plums - 15gms

Blueberry - 10gms

Mascarpone cheese - 50gms

Cream - 20gms

Marsala - 30ml

Castor sugar - 20gms

Egg Yolk – 1

Dark rum - 20ml (For Flambé)

Method:

Combine mascarpone cheese, cream, 10gms castor sugar and 15ml of Marsala.

Thinly slice the fruits.

Take a round mould, layer sliced fruits and cheese mixture neatly, allow it to set in the refrigerator.

For the zabaglione, place a rounded bowl in a hot water bath and whisk in the remaining castor sugar, egg yolk and 15ml of Marsala into an airy mixture.

De-mould the fruit timbale; pour the zabaglione on top and flambé with dark rum.

(This article was published on November 20, 2012)
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