Flambéing: it’s not just for show. While cooking with chef Didier Montarou of the InterContinental Hotel Boston recently, I learned that the dramatic act of igniting flames in a pan is not just to show off while cooking, which so many people believe it is, but is actually necessary to obtain certain flavors.
Flambé is French for "flamed," and the act of flambéing radically burns away alcohol so that the food is able to take on subtle flavors from the liquor without absorbing its harsh taste. Flambéing is a lot more complex than just adding a bit of alcohol to a dish because it boils the water and alcohol and caramelizes sugar all at once. So, with all of its complexity, the technique results in a unique flavor one would not get without flambéing.
A perfect example of this is the pumpkin tart recipe that Montarou and I developed that day. When I asked him if he thought it was OK for me to suggest that novice cooks could skip that step (out of fear for their eyebrows and eyelashes), Montarou replied with a firm no. Without igniting the rum with the pumpkin slices and the sugar, the taste of alcohol would be too severe and the sugar would not caramelize properly, preventing the recipe from obtaining all the delicious qualities we loved it for.
So before you go and try our pumpkin tart recipe, there are a few key things to remember when flambéing to ensure perfect (and safe) results:
Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce