Cooking with Fire

Take a cue from these blowtorch techniques and your next dinner party is guaranteed to sizzle.

Looking to impress guests at your next dinner party? As the temperature outside slowly drops, consider bringing some of the heat center stage by adding a blowtorched or flambéed element to your menu. Flambéing techniques — almost always igniting a spirit or liquor in a pan of other ingredients to burn off the alcohol but keep the flavor — are equal parts impressive and effective, and the potential recipes go well beyond Bananas Foster. Ditto for blowtorching, which most people associate with crème brûlée, but the applications of the tool can be far more extensive.

Below, we've compiled a list of some innovative ways to use fire in your cooking, from drinks to dessert.

 Drinks and Appetizers

A blowtorch is a great way to add a quick burst of precisely direct, searing heat, and can be used for many elements of your menu. To add extra flavor to pre-dinner cocktails, use a torch to lightly smoke spices, such as cinnamon and anise, or to char citrus like lime or lemon. And for hors d'oeuvres, use the flame to scorch bacon-wrapped shrimp or scallops, or for decadent Devils on Horseback.

Another easy way to add blowtorch heat to your menu is by charring vegetables for an earthy kick to dishes like bruschetta or salsa. Place vegetables like bell peppers or tomatoes on a metal sheet tray and use a medium-high flame on a blowtorch to char the skin all the way around. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, remove both the plastic wrap and the skin, being careful as the produce will still be hot. (This technique can also be done using a grill or broiler.)

Main Course

For the main meal, a blowtorch can be used in many different ways. Fish fillets and thin cuts of pork, beef, and chicken can be lightly charred and crisped before finishing in the oven. You can also use a blowtorch to crisp the top of any casserole, medley, or cheesy dish like macaroni and cheese that has baked in the oven and needs a nice caramelized finish.

Dessert

Baked Alaska, made with layers of cool ice cream, sweet sorbet, and delicious cake, makes fantastic use of the flambé technique. Before your guests arrive, assemble the cake and cover it in an Italian meringue, using a spatula to create decorative swirls. Set until frozen. At dessert time, torch the cake all around; the burnt meringue swirls will stand out beautifully against the white meringue, and the toasted flavor will pop against the sweet ice cream and sorbet. For a slightly easier end-of-meal treat, a torch is a great tool to have on hand for these grown-up s’mores variations, with fillings like peanut butter, hazelnut cream, and bananas.

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