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Thanksgiving kitchen tips: Flambe 101 (and a recipe)

How to flambe, then make a Cognac reduction sauce for Thanksgiving

Flambéing is the act of burning, or "flaming," off the alcohol in a food by igniting it. Whether done tableside at a fine restaurant or over your own stove as you prepare a dish, it can make for a dramatic presentation.

In addition to burning off the alcohol, flambéing also caramelizes the sugars in a liquor or liqueur, which can enhance and deepen the flavors in a finished dish. The technique is used in both sweet and savory recipes, even in cocktails.

Always take care when you flambé a dish, or whenever you add alcohol to a recipe near a flame -- alcohol can ignite almost instantaneously, bursting into a "poof" of flame. Be careful not to have any loose clothing or hair near where you are working, and keep anything flammable out of the way.

To flambé, take your pan off the burner before adding the alcohol (this also goes for deglazing a pan -- never add alcohol over or near a flame), then move your pan back over the burner flame to ignite the alcohol. You can ignite the alcohol by gently shaking the pan over the burner (the friction will help the alcohol ignite) or tipping the pan very gently over the flame until the alcohol catches on fire, but it is safest to use a long match or lighter and quick reflexes.

Finally, keep the pan lid or a large cookie sheet nearby so you can cover the pan to extinguish the flame if it gets out of hand.

Once you've mastered the technique, try it when making this cognac reduction sauce. It's a perfect sauce to go with your Thanksgiving turkey.

Craving more? Check out our handy holiday recipes and cooking tips page to help you out with your Thanksgiving planning. Not only do we cover familiar holiday dishes, we also share tips and tricks to save you time and energy during this busy time of year. And you can find all your Thanksgiving recipe needs in our California Cookbook. If you have any tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.


Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Makes 1 cup

Note: From John Brenner and Noelle Carter. The stock can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated.

    1 1/2 teaspoons oil
    1 turkey neck (reserved, from the turkey recipe), cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
    2 tablespoons white wine
    4 cups chicken broth
    Pan drippings from the roasted turkey
    1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
    3 sprigs thyme
    1 cup Cognac
    1 tablespoon chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
    Salt (optional)

1. To make turkey stock, in a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the turkey neck and saute the pieces until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Take the pan off the heat and add the wine. Scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and place the pan back over the heat. Cook until the wine is almost all cooked off and absorbed, about a minute.

3. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer; cook 30 to 40 minutes or until the stock is reduced by half.

4. Skim the fat from the surface of the stock and remove the neck pieces. Strain the stock; set aside.

5. Pour the drippings from the turkey roasting pan into a fat separator, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the roasting pan. Separate out the fat from the rest of the drippings and discard, reserving the de-fatted drippings. Heat the roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots to the pan and sweat for about 3 minutes until softened. Stir in the thyme sprigs and cook just until aromatic, about 1 minute.

6. Remove the pan from heat and add the Cognac. Use a long match (and stand back) to ignite the Cognac; let it burn until the alcohol is cooked off, watching carefully as the flames may flare up, about a minute (if it does not go out after a minute, place a lid over the pan to extinguish the flame).

7. Bring the pan back over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce by about 80%, until it coats the back of a spoon. Add the reserved turkey stock and stir to combine.

8. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and strain the sauce into a medium saucepan. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until reduced to 1 cup, several minutes. Add the reserved pan drippings, stirring to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened slightly and is reduced to 1 cup.

9. Remove the pan from heat and add the butter, swirling the pan gently to melt the butter. Taste and season if necessary with salt. Serve immediately.

Each tablespoon: 57 calories; 1 gram protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 2 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 3 mg. cholesterol; 181 mg. sodium.

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