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In Japanese restaurants, I always see the chefs doing crazy things with fire, and seeming to make very good grilled vegetables by lighting things on fire. I know most of that is for show, and that the volcano probably doesn't really cook the onions, but Can I light my frying pan on fire next time I'm making a stir fry and get well cooked vegetables?

Of course on the safety side, besides not being stupid with fire, are there other safety concerns I might not expect?

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You can cook with fire, but making a fire inside your pan is about the stupidest way to do it. Or do you mean flambeing? This is a different thing and doesn't really cook the (bulk of the) food. –  rumtscho May 30 '12 at 18:09
    
Too be honest I didnt know what that was. What's the "smartest" way to do it? –  SetSlapShot May 30 '12 at 18:13
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This is why it is stupid: media3.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/gallery/091218/… If you see somebody "setting" food on fire, this is flambe. Else you can grill food using a fire made in a proper container, using a safe fuel. See the answers for more, sobachatina already wrote a good one. –  rumtscho May 30 '12 at 18:28
    
Also, as you say you're a beginner, you may want to start with something easier. A fry pan over a burner is much easier to control... –  derobert May 30 '12 at 19:54
    
Are you thinking of wok hei? –  moonshadow May 31 '12 at 18:57
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1 Answer 1

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Fire is typically a poor heat source for direct cooking. It fluctuates with every breeze so the heating is very erratic. It also produces a lot of soot which tastes terrible and is bad for you.

When cooking on a campfire much better results are had by cooking next to the coals than above the flame. Cooking with a gas flame is more reliable of course.

A couple direct cooking applications of fire in the kitchen, that I can think of are:

  • Flambe: Lighting a sauce which contains a lot of alcohol to burn off some of the raw alcohol taste.
  • Roasting: Putting a steaming basket over a gas flame and charring the skin of peppers or eggplant.
  • Caramelizing: Using a blowtorch to put a crust on creme brulee or to sear the exterior of a sous vide steak.

I would recommend starting with the blowtorch for several reasons:

  1. It is harder to burn your house down with a torch than with a pan of flame.
  2. Blow torches are useful for things outside of the kitchen like stripping paint or starting the grill.
  3. There is something deeply satisfying about wielding a hissing, blue, knife of fire that appeals to the caveman within.

As for safety. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand. Don't let kids or pets in the kitchen when you are playing with fire. Keep your home owner's insurance current.

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+1 for the home owner's insurance –  chama May 30 '12 at 18:30
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+1 for the caveman within –  Chad May 30 '12 at 18:38
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