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Once you've perfected basic techniques like frying an egg and cooking rice, it's time to move on to those things that may have initially scared you off. Every other Monday, chef Camille Becerra is going beyond the basics to help us tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.
Today: We're playing with fire -- without burning the house down.
When entertaining at home, I love to fit a dish into the evening's menu that will wow my guests. A flambé is a perfect way to do this: Liquor is added to a dish and ignited into flames!
This technique eliminates the harsh taste of liquor while keeping the subtler ones, and the flame intensifies the existing flavors in the dish. Roasts, especially chicken and other game birds, are great to flambé. I prefer to use gin, dry vermouth, or sweet vermouth, but rum and brandy are also common in desserts like Bananas Foster.
When using fruit, sprinkle a couple tablespoons of sugar into a preheated shallow pan and allow it to melt. Once the sugar begins to turn amber, carefully add the fruit -- make sure not to let your fingers touch the molten hot sugar. Allow the fruit to develop some color, then add a splash or two of your preferred liquor. Ignite the liquid with a match or a candle lighter, and allow the flame to go out on its own. Fruit flambé of any kind can be paired with ice cream, yogurt, cheese, or a savory main; in this case I served mine with a flambé of Cornish hen.
More: Shrimp also take well to fire. Keep your cognac at the ready.
When flambéing meats, I like to do it twice: once in the beginning to create a basting sauce, and once again at the end in front of guests. Use a cast iron or enamel roasting pan, and make sure to get it very hot before adding your seasoned meat. Add 1/2 cup of liquor and ignite, then roast and baste often.
I roasted the cornish hen at 450° F for 20 minutes, then lowered the temperature to 350° F for another 10, until the bird reaches an internal temperature of 165 °F. Once your roast is done, allow it to rest and flambé once again in front of guests.
A few notes on safety: Always pour the liquor gently into the pan. A splatter of booze can ignite the flambé prematurely if you're not careful! Also, be sure to use a long match to create distance between your hand and the flame.
Tell us: What's your favorite thing to set on fire in the kitchen?
Photos by Tara Sgroi