Flambe (pronounced flam-bay) is the French term for flaming food with spirits. Long a showstopper in restaurants, this same technique can also add flair to holiday entertaining at home.
Spirits used for flaming must be at least 80 proof--the measurement of alcoholic strength. The alcoholic content of a spirit is equal to half the indicated proof (i.e. an 80-proof spirit is 40% alcohol). Likewise, should a bottle label state only the alcoholic content, double it to determine the proof.
The higher the proof, the easier the spirit is to ignite and the larger and longer lasting the flame. According to Beverly Barbour, author of “Cooking With Spirits” (101 Productions, 1976), “Approximately 100 proof is needed for ignition at room temperature; at 80 proof the spirit must be heated to 160 degrees before it will ignite.”
Carefully warm the spirit, but do not bring it to a boil. This may be done in a butter warmer, small saucepan or ibrik (open Greek or Turkish coffeepot).
Pour the warm spirit over the food to be flamed (Step 1). Then, using a long wooden match (Step 2), ignite the spirits. As a safety precaution, have a cover for the pan nearby, just in case the flames need to be extinguished quickly.
Never, under any circumstances, should spirits be poured directly from the bottle into an already flaming dish. The flame could follow the flow of alcohol up to the bottle and cause serious injury.
Allow the flames to die down (Step 3), burning off some of the alcohol and leaving the subtle flavor of the spirit to enhance the food.