Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. I hope y’all are staying warm, because I’m writing you from the midst of Western Washington’s Snow-mageddon. Which, so far, has been closer to “Snow-ma-geddon-with-it”. But it’s early hours yet. (Future Jon Edit: our front yard ended up with 13 inches of the bloody stuff, so it wasn’t anything to sneeze at.) And if you need a way to keep things warm this week, you’re in luck. Today’s recipe comes straight from the sweltering bayou, built on tropical fruit, and is sure to create a burning desire in your guests and loved ones for more. Now, if you want to skip the foreplay, and get right down to business, here’s the link straight to the recipe. For those of us who know how to TAKE OUR TIME, let’s ease into something more comfortable, and talk about corruption, crime, passion, and…something that makes this thing rhyme. Let’s talk about Bananas Foster.
Before we do, however, it’s important to call out that this was a Patreon-sponsored recipe! One of our upper-tier patrons asked that I cover the recipe, and as Bananas Foster is a favorite dessert of my family, it was an easy choice to make. So let’s start off this cool dessert with a talk about how to heat it up.
The Flame of Anor- wait, no, flame of ‘ardor’, my bad.
While I do love the scene where Gandalf faces Durin’s Bane, you are correct, Title Jon; we’re not going to do a deep-dive into Tolkien lore today. It would be superfluous, as we had to miss that Trivia Night for rehearsal.
Because of which my family…did not pass.
But we ARE going to mention that Bananas Foster is a dessert that’s frequently connected with fancy dining, is visually impressive to make if done correctly (and safely), and doesn’t have many ingredients, meaning it’s a GREAT dish to make for a Valentine’s Day evening with that special someone. Not for me, though. As we’re all aware, my ‘special someone’ is alcohol, and setting your date on fire for dessert is rather poor form.
Why is it impressive to make? Well, because Bananas Foster is traditionally and frequently prepared flambé, or “flamed”. Meaning that, toward the end of cooking, alcohol (typically a dark alcohol (bourbon, brandy, or rum), or liqueur) is added to the sauce, and the resulting vapors are lighted. And while this FEELS very impressive and dangerous, it’s actually quite easy to do safely. The only tricky part is putting it out, and even that’s easy if you do it right.
Remember when Paramore was a thing?
Sorry, “It’s easy if you do it right” just triggered some end-of-high-school memories for me.
If you noticed, I said the resulting VAPORS are lighted, earlier. That’s because alcohol has to be very high proof before it will burn on its own (at least 80 proof, and higher before it will burn easily and consistently), and lower proof alcohols have to be simmering to make the vapors that burn. So as a lower proof alcohol cools down, it stops producing vapors, and voila, no fire. Literally just doing NOTHING for 30 seconds to a minute (depending on how much alcohol you used) will cause the fire to burn out on its own. You can also try smothering the fire by popping a (fire proof) lid on top of the pan and waiting for a minute or two for the fire to run out of air. You can also just pour the burning alcohol onto the already prepped food, which will cool the liquor and break its cohesion, both of which will likely cause the flambé to fizzle out.
Safety warnings aside, and you all protected from the dark fire of Udun, let’s take a historical tour on where this delightful dish came from, and how it came to be shorthand for swanky.
This Dish is Bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S
Now, you may wonder where exactly Bananas Foster comes from. And if so, it’s because you missed my reference to “the sweltering bayou” in the opening paragraph, since, fun fact, while that word technically refers to swamps, marshes, and wetlands, it’s only used in the Southern United States, or in the rest of America when REFERENCING the South, and therefore is basically just “Lousiana and the surrounding territory”.
And, historically, if someone of national note was invented in Louisiana, the odds are that it was done in New Orleans. Look, I’m sure Shreveport and Baton Rouge are lovely places, but the most culturally impactful thing to come out of Shreveport in the last 30 years was the thriller Mr Brooks, a film so financially and critically unimpressive that it appears out of chronological order on Danielle Panabaker’s Wikipedia page. A page I definitely had legitimate reasons for visiting.
This is the kind of hard-hitting pseudo-journalism I am tangentially paid to do.
Anywho, I’ve actually talked about this before! Yes, I covered Bananas Foster back in my quick tip “9 Fine Foods with Names” post of…huh, two years ago on Saturday. Seriously, the number of like, anniversary posts I stumble into doing by accident is weird. Anyway, I want to note a small discrepancy in my earlier post, I said that Richard Foster, the Foster the dish is named after, was the new chairman of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. If, however, you were to wander over to NPR, and read their history of the dish, they’d tell you it was named after Richard Foster, the new Chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission. Why did I say one thing, and NPR say another? Well, here’s the thing: if you google “New Orleans Crime Commission”, there’s no one there. The METROPOLITAN Crime Commission shows up, but New Orleans CC does not. “Well,” you think “That’s probably pretty simple to explain. The New Orleans Crime Commission just changed their name”. Further investigation, however, like wiggling a loose tooth, reveals an even greater gap lurking below the surface. Because we have two conflicting narratives: NPR, as well as NOLA.com both assure me that Bananas Foster were invented in 1951 for Mr Foster. But the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION tells me the Metropolitan Crime Commission was founded in 1952, in a piece with a VERY UNLIKELY guest appearance.
Why yes, that IS ‘former Head of the FBI, and not-at-all-currently-important Robert Mueller handing an award to a man who, and I say this with love, looks like the Phantom of the Opera if he was a used Car Salesman.
And given that the Metropolitan Crime Commission doesn’t have a page detailing their history, you have to wonder how deep this goes, how many other lies we’ve been led to believe by just blinding listening to what THEY want us to believe! YOU HAVE TO WAKE UP! Or you can note on their front page that the Metropolitan Crime Commission serves the metropolitan areas of both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and thus it’s likely that the New Orleans Crime Commission was just subsumed into the larger commission a year after Foster’s ascendancy.
There is one somewhat funny fact, where in part of the reason for the formation of the New Orleans Crime Commission was to investigate corruption, and the reason that Bananas Foster used bananas was, potentially, BECAUSE of corruption: See, the restaurant the dish was invented at, Brennan’s, was owned by Owen Brennan. His brother, John Brennan, owned a fruit company, which had tons of bananas, because bananas were the hit fruit of the early 1900’s in America. Thus, Owen could get bananas from his brother for a nice family discount.
In a nicely connected turn of events, I got MY bananas from my brother, because the FUCK I was driving out to buy produce in this mess.
In any case, the invention was a very last-minute affair. The story is well-repeated by those who knew it, and repeated consistently: Owen showed up to the restaurant and said “Hey, my buddy Richard is coming to dinner tonight, he just got a nice gig, make him a special dessert” to the chef and manager, one of whom (the manager) was his sister. The sister, a little pissed that she got stuck making things for her brother’s friends again, worked with the chef and said “hey, my mom used to make use caramelized bananas for breakfast, let’s do something like that,” and, and I swear to you this is a pretty consistently noted addition, “let’s fire it for them, like they do the Alaska at Antoine’s.” Because a rival restaurant, Antoine’s, had recently started flambéing their Baked Alaska. So the addition of flambé to the dish was purely for show, because another restaurant was doing it. That’s an attitude I can get behind. Speaking of getting behind, that rant about the Metropolitan Crime Commission means I’m running a little late textually, so let’s get to cooking.
Burn Baby Burn
Now, here’s the thing about Bananas Foster: it’s really easy, and quick to make, and therefore, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Just kidding. There’s basically only like, 3 things that can go wrong, and I can guide you on how to avoid them. But first, what exactly IS Bananas Foster? We’ve gotten this deep into the post, and all we know is that it has bananas, and it gets flambéed. Well, that’s because there’s only really one other component to the recipe: a caramel sauce. The original bananas foster was just sugar and butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon, bananas, and alcohol. Light it up, serve it up, no muss, no fuss.
Now, some people make their caramel sauce for the bananas using cream these days, to make it a little richer, a little smoother. And my family considered that, until I grabbed our only container of cream from the fridge.
We swiftly STOPPED considering it, and burned down the fridge.
Since that technically contained a interesting new form of CHEESE inside of it at this point, we decided against incorporating it into our sauce, and stuck with the classics. However…I have to confess that I somewhat poorly prepared for this, and that’s where our first mistake comes from.
See, when I did my first inspection of recipes for this, I was on a hunt for ingredients, to make sure I was hitting the consistent notes. What I DIDN’T check was the RATIO of them. This is important, because I ended up making this recipe upstairs, away from my notes, and having to grab the first recipe I found off of the internet as my reference point. And what I didn’t know at the time, was that this was the ONLY RECIPE in all FOUR I checked where there’s LESS butter in the sauce than brown sugar (well, that’s not technically true, but the other recipe that did it is the one that adds the cream, so call it a wash.)
So yes, use at LEAST as much butter as you do brown sugar to make your caramel sauce. And it only takes about 3 minutes on medium high heat to get the sauce bubbling and ready for your bananas. (you can use a lower heat and go longer, but most recipes make this quick and easy.)
My apologies on the quality of the picture here. I was stirring with one hand, and trying to get the shot with the other.
Toss in your bananas, either chopped on the bias or cut into quarters like I made mine, and cook for about 30 seconds to MAYBE a minute if you’re on medium high heat. Again, this is a FAST recipe. Like, you’re already almost done, in terms of time. (Cooking too long is the second most common problem: the hot pan and sauce will crush your bananas’ structural integrity in NO time. Hell, one of my banana quarters was cut a little thin, and it was basically mush when I served it. If you’re afraid of moving that fast, just use a lower heat, and cook it a little longer. )
Flip the bananas, and remove the pan from the heat. Add your alcohol: some people just use rum, but the original is a mixture of rum and banana liqueur, which my family did have on hand. IN fact, our banana liqueur was higher proof than our rum. As the alcohol hits the hot sauce, it’ll start to vaporize, which means it’s time to flambé. If you have a gas stove, you can do this by CAREFULLY tipping your pan until the fumes catch from the stove flame. If you use an electric stove, or don’t have the fortitude to try and tip a skillet full of dessert far enough to set it on fire, but not far enough to spill it, just use a long-nosed lighter or match. Failing to use the right tools for this job (or using too much alcohol) is the third error here: alcohol can burn at 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you don’t have any limbs, hair, or clothes close to the fire when it lights. (Of course, it’ll also take a half-second or so to burn you, so if you ARE too close when it starts, just pull back quickly (and safely!) and you should be fine. Admire the weirdly colored flames for a second or two.
That weird bit of blue in the middle is the fire. It’s hard to photograph alcohol fire.
While the fire burns, you just shake the pan lightly but consistently to mix the burning rum and liqueur through the sauce, and in under a minute, the flames should go out. Once they’re out, the dish is ready to serve. Now, since I screwed up my sauce, I had a bunch of little sugar nuggets seared to the pan, but other than that, it served up pretty well!
Shiny, sugary, splendid.
And everyone agreed it was pretty much spot-on in terms of taste and presentation. My mother got the one over-softened banana I mentioned earlier, but otherwise, glowing reviews all around. Personally, I think I would up the cinnamon a little (I used just a pinch, but maybe I’d increase it to like, ¼ of a tsp or something.) And, if I really wanted to be cool/impressive someone, I’d flick some of it in while flambéing, since powdered cinnamon is flammable, and sparks up prettily when it hits fire. (I’d only flick SOME, because I don’t know how burning affects its taste, or if it hits the sauce at all after sparking like that.)
Of course, it wouldn’t be a reasonable Patreon-sponsored review without noting the many patrons…well, okay, “quite a few” patrons we have that make this site what it is. Their support allows us to keep the site running, and is providing seed money for potential future improvements to our technical side to make it even better. Check out the site if you’d like to be a part of it. If you’d like to help, but can’t spare the cash, know that supporting us on social media, whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other accounts we don’t yet have, and just READING the site both help us, both in getting our posts where more people can see them, thus hopefully spreading joy, and in giving us bigger reader numbers, which makes Jon happy.
THURSDAY: I CLAIMED WE WERE GOING TO TALK ABOUT CHOCOLATE. AND WE MIGHT. OR WE MIGHT TALK ABOUT ANOTHER FOOD STUFF SUITED TO THE HOLIDAY. WE’LL SEE WHEN WE GET THERE.
MONDAY: JON MAKES ANOTHER FAMILY FAVORITE, WITH CHICKEN ADOBO. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? WHY ARE THERE DIFFERENT THINGS CALLED ADOBO? THESE QUESTIONS AND MORE WILL BE WALLOWED IN LIKE A CURIOSITY HOG IN MYSTERY MUD, NEXT WEEK
Even though I spelled it out, here's the
Serves 3, can be modified.
3 bananas, halved lengthwise and crosswise.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
½ cup dark brown sugar
A pinch, or up to ¼ tsp cinnamon
1 oz golden rum (so, not dark, but also not clear)
.5 oz banana liqueur.
1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter and sugar into a bubbling sauce, roughly 3 minutes. Add cinnamon, stir to combine.
2. Add the bananas, cut side down, and let cook in the sauce for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until lightly browned. Turn bananas over, and remove the pan from the heat.
3. Add the alcohols, and flambé, lighting the simmering vapors with a long-nosed lighter, long match, or other safe device. Shake pan until fire dies out, and spoon bananas and sauce over vanilla or other ice cream to serve.