How to Set Food on Fire
Send the year out in a blaze of glory
2018 is nearly at an end. Cleanse it from your memory and start the year anew. Set your food on fire. Not in an oops, I forgot the turkey now the holiday is ruined way—this is a deliberate act of pyrotechnics that you can deploy to inspire awe and a soupcon of terror amongst your fellow revelers. You are their ruler now. Use that responsibility wisely.
Safely, too. Well-wielded fire is a delight, but not a joke. Have water at the ready as well as a fire extinguisher, a long match or lighter, a damp or inflammable surface, possibly a flame-retardant glove, fireproof vessels, and definitely a modicum of sobriety. Establish a splash zone as well. It's not the food itself you will be lighting, but rather some high-proof alcohol, and that can splatter unpredictably. There will be an audience and no harm shall come on your watch, at least not the physical kind.
Determine what foodstuff you will be setting ablaze. It could be sweet—a British-style pudding, cherries jubilee, bananas Foster, crepes Suzette, or savory—steak Diane, omelet au rhum, duck flambe, (Beverages—Combustible Edisons, Blue Blazers, absinthe, cafe brulot, and all manner of tiki madness are a discussion for another time.) In any case, it should already be cooked. This is you making show and possibly adding some caramelization, but don't expect this to be what brings your ingredients safely up from raw.
There are a couple of ways to go about this but again, both require caution, and an alcohol somewhere between 80 and 120 proof—any higher than that, and you risk your precious eyebrows. Cognac, rum, and brandy are the standard tipples, but all of them should be decanted from the bottle before a flame gets anywhere near the liquid, lest you create an inadvertent Molotov cocktail. OK, good safety talk. Some dishes remain in the cooking vessel and get doused with alcohol to be set alight. A deep, lidded skillet works better for this than, say a stock pot. Pour the alcohol in, ignite it with a fireplace match or long kitchen lighter, and let the flames die down naturally. If you should need to wrest control of the situation, carefully drop the lid on and wait a minute or two for them to go out.
If you're going for maximum theater, have your dish ready to go in a flameproof bowl or a lipped plate on a cleared surface (no stray napkins or dish towels), then warm the alcohol in a pan on the stove. It doesn't need to get anywhere near simmering, around 130 degrees should do it. Light the liquid with a fireplace match or long kitchen lighter, make your audience stand back (and start their camera app), and carefully pour the flaming liquor atop the food. If you'd care to get showy, use a long-handled spoon and baste the dish from the blue conflagration pooled at the bottom. Let the flames subside. Accept your status as a party deity.