How To Set Up Your Stove Space For Safe Flambeing

Cooking with alcohol is a great way to add flavor to both savory and sweet dishes. While your first thought may be adding some red wine to a beef stew or coq au vin, those dishes only barely scratch the surface of the range of foods can be cooked with alcohol. Red and white wines, beers, and hard alcohols like bourbon, rum, and brandy make a great addition to your dinner or dessert. Cooking with booze isn't quite as simple as throwing some in the pan like you'd do with herbs and spices, though — one wrong move and you could be pulling out the fire extinguisher instead of sitting down to a relaxing meal.

The process of adding liquor to food while cooking is called flambé. It's a French term that roughly translates to "flaming" food with liquor. When the alcohol is added and lit on fire, it quickly burns and leaves behind just a hint of the alcohol flavor. Contrary to popular belief, while some alcohol does burn off during the cooking process, it's only about 30%. If you've been out to a fancy restaurant and someone ordered a dish like steak Diane or bananas foster, you may have even witnessed a tableside flambé. It's quite an impressive and dramatic spectacle that'll have guests oohing and aahing. If you're looking to try it at home, it can be done, so long as you follow certain safety protocols.

Protect yourself first

If you're all set to impress your guests with a flambé dinner at home, there are a few safety tips you'll want to implement. While it may seem a bit obvious since you're working with highly flammable material, it's still important to make sure to remove any loose kitchen towels, paper towels, matches, or any other flammable objects. While you're at it, have a large pot lid and fire extinguisher handy, just in case. Next, you need to choose your alcohol. While you can use whatever liquor you prefer, liquors that are higher in alcohol content — 100 proof or more — light more quickly and easily. If that's too high for you, stick with something that is at least 80 proof.

When you're ready to flambé, ensure that the back burner of your stove is turned off prior to pouring the alcohol in. If you keep it turned on, you run the risk of losing your eyebrow hairs. When you're ready to add your liquor, make sure to use a long lighter or matchstick when lighting to keep your fingers out of harm's way. Lastly, make sure that you pre-measure your alcohol into a separate container. If you pour directly from the bottle, you risk having the highly flammable bottle explode. Once the pan is on fire, give the pan a gentle swirl and wait for the fire to evaporate. If any flames begin to jump away from the pan, simply pop the lid on to return to safety.