In harsh economic times like these, huddling around fires for warmth is all the rage, but oil drums are sooooo last century. What’s today’s modern Hoovervillian to do? Well hoboes and hoboettes, I’m glad you asked because here at Food Junta we pledge to continue bringing you recipes on the singed-and-smoking edge of Pyrotechnical Gastronomy, for all of your dining, showboating and huddling needs.
Okay fine, that and my apartment is still full of a lot of leftover booze that I’d rather burn than drink. Today’s recipe is for Bananas Foster, a rich, bubbling mass of butter, sugar, bananas, and fiery liquor that I was introduced to by a Cajun roommate while studying abroad in Italy. Naturally we used grappa at the time because hey, when in Rome, right? But while many types of liquor will burn and caramelize your ingredients, not to mention warm your fingerless-gloved hands, dark rum has traditionally been the fuel of choice.
According to Bensick’s Apocryphal Food Tales, Bananas Foster is named after John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, who first whipped up the volatile concoction in 1954 in an attempt to assassinate the leftist president of Guatemala and defend the interests of the United Fruit Company. True story. True story? Dulles would later retire to the Virginia countryside and become an international airport, but his legacy lives on in this regime-changingly delicious recipe. And while the culinary shock and awe of weaponized butter and bananas may be impressive to behold, it is astoundingly easy to make. From start to finish you won’t spend more than 15 minutes, which makes Bananas Foster a great afterthought dessert. In today’s case I had been working on a massive dinner with my friend Rice, the critically acclaimed food-photog, cook and radio personality whose shots accompany this post, and man oh man was it a relief after hours in the kitchen to finish things off with a recipe so incredibly easy it makes scrambling eggs feel like the Bataan Death March. Ingredients follow:
4Tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 cup brown sugar
6 oz. dark rum – although I used Bacardi Gold, which worked fine
3 bananas – cut into pieces
A big fat pinch of cinnamon
Vanilla ice cream
1. Melt butter and sugar together into a smooth brown paste and caramelize for 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Stir in pieces of banana.
3. Turn heat to low and add rum.
4. Stir for a minute, then strike match and torch the damn thing.
5. Now here’s where the optional cinnamon comes in: drop a few big pinches of cinnamon into your hand and throw it straight onto the flames. The powder ignites and sparkles; ooo-ing and awe-ing ensue; you’ll be hailed as the greatest showman since PT Barnum. Just don’t get carried away though or you’ll end up like me, with a stove covered in cinnamon.
When the flames subside the bananas will be softened, sweetened, soaked with alcohol and swimming in butter. What wouldn’t taste great under those conditions? Serve with vanilla ice cream, and you may very well be so content that you’ll never want to vary the recipe, or eat anything else for that matter. But, just in case, there are variations:
For pyromaniacs with loftier culinary ambitions and deeper liquor cabinets than my own, I feel obliged to mention that in the true, authentic Bananas Foster recipe the 6 oz of booze is divided into two parts rum and one part banana liqueur – banana schnapps or crème de banana. Since the objective of my apartment’s Long Term Strategic Booze Reduction Plan (LTS-BRP) is to use up all the leftover, post-party hooch that we already have, I chose to stick with rum alone and the results were great, but this idea of using a complementary flavored alcohol to caramelize the bananas got me thinking about all the other fruity drinks out there and the plants from whence they came. Shouldn’t the Foster Formula of fruit, sugar, butter, liquor and fire work for them too?
You could, for example, take apples, cook longer than the bananas in order to soften them, and then finish them off with a towering inferno of rum and calvados. You could do the same to cherries with kirsch, pears with pear brandy, peaches with peach schnapps (or even amaretto), and then you, my friend, would be the proud owner of the girliest liquor cabinet outside of The View’s green room. But really, there do seem to be limitless possibilities. Go start a fire: you’ll probably end up with something delicious.