I want to have flames coming off my roast meat platter when I serve it to guests. What liquid would I use to light up?
The technique is called flambé in kitchen/restaurant lingo and means pouring a liquid containing alcohol over food and igniting it.
You need somehing:
-> High-proof drinking alcohol, like brandy, vodka, rum, whiskey kirsch, himbergeist, pastis, Grand Marnier... whatever fits your dish. The higher the proof, the better, generally 40% (80 proof in the US) or up is a typical choice. Below that, it may be hard or impossible to ignite and not burn constantly. Some sources advise against too high, because these spirits need careful handling and no or limited pre-warming.
Pre-warm1 the liquor, then
- Method 1
scoop a small amount into a small laddle or large spoon, ignite with a long match or stick lighter, pour over or around the food.
- Method 2
pour a small amount over or around the food, then ignite with a long (fireplace) match or stick lighter.
Serve immediately after igniting and make sure you (or your servers) have hair tied back and wear no loose scarves or other flamable clothing.
Alcohol flames are hard to see in bright light, but quite impressive in a dark environment. So don't do this at a summer lunch outside, but at an evening affair and try to dim the lights, if possible (but not so much that the servers stumble!).
Consider doing a test run before serving guests to get an idea on the timing. Flames will die down after a minute or so, but trying to extend that time with more alcohol isn't a good idea. Too much liquor will overpower (some would say: spoil) the taste of the dish and may produce charring.
If it's only the flames you are after, you might burn some alcohol in a small heatproof(!) bowl or dish on the platter, but this will most likely not give the desired effect and carrying this is very dangerous in case you trip and spill the burning liquid. I strongly advise against it!
And: Never, ever pour alcohol straight from the bottle towards a flame.
If you want to search for videos, look for flambé dishes that are typically prepared at the table, like crêpe suzette, not the dishes that are flambé at an earlier stage of the cooking process in the kitchen.
Just warm, not hot! This is to increase the "cloud" of alcohol which will be lit in the next step, making it easier. If you heat too much, you'll end up with a "ball of fire" and all the alcohol burns off in a big "pouf!" instead of giving a nice flame.