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Old 01-28-2017, 01:27 PM   #1
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Flambé in Cognac/other alcohol - is there really a point?

Good evening all!
A relatively 'junior' question i'm afraid. I often see recipes calling for flaming or flambéing (is there a difference) a fish or cut of meat in a cognac or white wine - which i attempt to do, but am seldom sure i can actually taste the benefit of such an exercise. Are we sure it works and actually changes the taste? what are the mechanics behind a flambe... how can the food take on a meaningfully different taste from such a very quick dousing in alcohol combined with such a high intensity heat? Do we do it just because it looks impressive....? or what am i missing?!
Many thanks for any thoughts.
John

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Old 01-28-2017, 01:56 PM   #2
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Never tried it with meat, but I've done it with rum/sugar/bananas. It certainly caramelises the outside of the banana, so I assume it does the same to meat.
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Old 01-28-2017, 02:30 PM   #3
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I haven't done it with meat, either, but I have made saganaki - Greek kasseri cheese that is briefly fried, then doused with brandy or ouzo and flamed, then topped with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice. It definitely adds flavor to the cheese. Putting high heat on proteins and sugars (meats do contain some sugars) causes a cascade of chemical reactions that create new flavors - it's called the Maillard reaction, after the chemist who discovered it. This article describes the chemistry, although it's not specifically about flambeing: What the Heck is the Maillard Reaction (& Why Should You Care)?
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Old 01-28-2017, 02:44 PM   #4
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Flambé in Cognac/other alcohol - is there really a point?

I accidentally flambéed a ribeye, no cognac, it flambéed itself. Somewhat of a surprise. It was quite impressive, scared me to death. But one of the best steaks I've ever had.

Keep a pan lid handy for smothering, and take the pan off the burner before you pour in the alcohol.
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Old 01-28-2017, 03:19 PM   #5
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I do it a fair amount.

Flambeeing allows you to get rid of some of the alcohol -- leaving the flavor of the booze but no raw alcohol taste.

You can achieve this by simmering but it takes a lot longer and the liquid reduces.

By the way, you can't use wine to flambé -- not enough alcohol

I've never noticed any searing or Maillard reaction when I flambé. It only flames for a few seconds.
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Old 01-28-2017, 04:37 PM   #6
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Wouldn't be Bananas Foster without it!
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Old 01-28-2017, 05:42 PM   #7
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I "flambéed" a steak in the broiler oven once. It caught fire. When I opened the oven door, the flames really took off. All I could do is close the oven and wait for the fire to go out. Didn't have to turn the steak over that night, as it was cooked all the way through. Probably should have remembered to Clean The Oven before using the broiler. Next time..... there won't be a next time.

When flaming alcohol on something, do it with the pan Off the heating element. You see chefs on tv just tip the pan on the burner just slightly to light the liqueur. Don't try this at home.
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Old 01-28-2017, 05:57 PM   #8
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When flaming alcohol on something, do it with the pan Off the heating element. You see chefs on tv just tip the pan on the burner just slightly to light the liqueur. Don't try this at home.
When chefs do that, they're actually lighting the fumes that waft over the burner, not the liqueur itself, but yes - this can be dangerous. Best to take the pan off the flame and light it with a long match or lighter.
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Old 01-29-2017, 01:04 AM   #9
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Wouldn't be Bananas Foster without it!
I once met a guy at my old pub in the city who said he was both a maître d and a dessert chef in a nearby fancy restaurant.

I remember thinking that I doubted the maître d part, but was pretty sure that he was telling the truth about his specialty: tableside bananas foster, by the fact that he had no hair on his hands or wrists.
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Old 01-29-2017, 01:29 AM   #10
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When you cook with alcoholic beverages, the alcohol is not what you want to affect your flavor. In fact, the main reason for burning the alcohol off is to get rid of it, because it can make your food taste bad.

What's left after the alcohol is burned off, is the flavor of the beverage. As mentioned already, Bananas Foster would not taste like Bananas Foster without the rum flavor.

In my own opinion, the flavor of your alcoholic beverage will be more pronounced with a flambé dish cooked quickly, like Bananas Foster. It doesn't seem to have a lot of impact on a cut of meat, that needs time too cook. But, I can also taste the flavor of a full bodied wine in a slow braise in something like coq au vin. Big proteins seem to need a simmer in booze instead of a flambé. That's just my personal experience.

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Old 01-29-2017, 11:16 AM   #11
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When you cook with alcoholic beverages, the alcohol is not what you want to affect your flavor.
That's not true, actually. Alcohol is a flavor enhancer.

Alcohol dissolves flavor components that are not water or oil soluable, so very often alcohol is added to bring out the flavor in other ingredients and not for the flavor of the alcohol itself.

Vodka sauce for pasta is a good example of this.

Alcohol also is used for other purposes, too. It prevents cheese from curdling in a fondue and other preparations, for example.

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What's left after the alcohol is burned off, is the flavor of the beverage. As mentioned already, Bananas Foster would not taste like Bananas Foster without the rum flavor.

It's important to remember that alcohol never burns off entirely.

Flambeeing burns off only a small percentage of the alcohol. 75% or more of the alcohol will remain. Flambeeing takes the harsh edge off, leaving both flavor and the distinctive "sharp" (my word) character of the alcohol itself. The alcohol itself can make food taste good, not bad.
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Old 01-31-2017, 05:09 PM   #12
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I flambeed myself once while drinking Cognac and cooking at the same time...wasn't what I intended but it sure entertained the guests...
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Old 01-31-2017, 06:13 PM   #13
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I flambeed myself once while drinking Cognac and cooking at the same time...wasn't what I intended but it sure entertained the guests...

I've flambéed myself a time or two as well, but it was on the grill.
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Old 01-31-2017, 06:15 PM   #14
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I flambeed myself once while drinking Cognac and cooking at the same time...wasn't what I intended but it sure entertained the guests...
Well, that convinces me. I will not start drinking. For cooking or social reasons.
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Old 01-31-2017, 11:09 PM   #15
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I've made Steak au Poivre with the sauce flambé a number of times for dinner guests, and it's pretty impressive, especially if you douse the lights first.

I had one mishap where I didn't pull the pan far enough off the burner and the heat coming off the skillet was so hot it melted part of the plastic door handle on the microwave that was mounted right over the stove. Oops.

In my opinion, the alcohol most certainly flavors the sauce. However, one thing to note: you mention white wine in your post, but the fact is that wine doesn't contain enough alcohol to burn. I could be wrong, but I believe whatever you're going to set the flame to must be at least 80 proof in order to ignite.
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Old 01-31-2017, 11:22 PM   #16
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Well, that convinces me. I will not start drinking. For cooking or social reasons.
Hey, just because Rock set himself on fire doesn't mean the rest of us will
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Old 02-03-2017, 08:04 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Dawgluver View Post
I accidentally flambéed a ribeye, no cognac, it flambéed itself. Somewhat of a surprise. It was quite impressive, scared me to death. But one of the best steaks I've ever had.

Keep a pan lid handy for smothering, and take the pan off the burner before you pour in the alcohol.
Just what I was going to say! And I'll add "Don't panic". It's a bit frightening the first time you do it but if you keep your cool and, as Dawgluver says, keep a pan lid close at hand you'll be OK. (Don't use water or a cloth to quell the flames.)

Yes, it does make a difference. Not sure I'd use a Cognac though. I tend to use a reasonable quality 3* brandy of the sort you'd use with mixers rather than some really expensive Cognac. Much cheaper.
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:11 PM   #18
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Just what I was going to say! And I'll add "Don't panic". It's a bit frightening the first time you do it but if you keep your cool...
Yeah, the first time is always scary, but when the house doesn't burn down, you reflect, and realize it wasn't that bad.

I work around classic and antique cars. The first time somebody sees a backfire set a carburetor on fire is something to behold. Eyeballs get really big. It's the same with a pan fire. Stay calm, smother the fire.

CD
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Old 02-05-2017, 11:24 AM   #19
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Flambé in Cognac/other alcohol - is there really a point?

Quote:
Originally Posted by caseydog View Post
Yeah, the first time is always scary, but when the house doesn't burn down, you reflect, and realize it wasn't that bad.



I work around classic and antique cars. The first time somebody sees a backfire set a carburetor on fire is something to behold. Eyeballs get really big. It's the same with a pan fire. Stay calm, smother the fire.



CD

Heh. I ran the flaming ribeye that flambéed itself outside in its cast iron pan to fling it into the grass, then thought, wait a minute, Dawg. I'm not going to throw away a perfectly good steak. So I took it back in, and smothered the flames with a pan lid.

It was au poivre, and absolutely delicious. And terrifying. A hard-won victory.
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Old 02-05-2017, 11:13 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by caseydog View Post
Yeah, the first time is always scary, but when the house doesn't burn down, you reflect, and realize it wasn't that bad.

I work around classic and antique cars. The first time somebody sees a backfire set a carburetor on fire is something to behold. Eyeballs get really big. It's the same with a pan fire. Stay calm, smother the fire.

CD
I have seen that happen caseydog. There was a garage not far from where I was living. I was on my way to the library and the door to the garage was up. As I was going by, POOF! I stood there wondering why no one was calling the fire department. All I heard was "hey guys, come see this."
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