A quintessential New Orleans dessert, and a favorite among most locals. If you're a visitor to our city, don't feel like you're ordering a clichéd tourist dish. We love this one too.

This dish really should not be prepared in the kitchen. It must be performed, in front of your guests. Use a chafing dish, and some kind of portable heat like Sterno. Don't be sloppy, and keep a fire extinguisher handy. There's no need to burn the house down just for dessert, but this really must be done right. I learned to cook this dish from Chef Joe Cahn at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and he spun dire tales of what befell those who dared sequester themselves in the kitchen when making Bananas Foster. Seriously, bad gris-gris will befall you if you deprive your guests of the spectacle. Plus, they'll talk for years about how cool you are to have made this for their dessert.

First, you should make some preparations. Peel a thin strip of peel from the bananas, and use your knife to slice the banana crossways into coins. Then replace the banana peel so that it looks untouched (as best as you can, anyway). This way, you can pretend to "peel" your bananas, and dump them into the put already cut, as if by magic. Cheesy, you ask? Well, it still looks cool, particularly if you're really nonchalant when you do this in front of your guests. If you insist, you can slice the bananas the classical way, quartering them by slicing thm lengthwise and then in half. I still think the other way is cooler.

Put your ground cinnamon into some kind of non-standard container, or even a little muslin bag, the better to "convince" your guests that it is, in fact, not cinnamon but voodoo dust, scraped from the tomb of Marie Laveau at midnight on All Soul's Day ... some kind of delightfully corny crap like that. Also, I recommend taking a cinnamon stick and grinding it fresh in a spice or coffee grinder instead of using pre-ground cinnamon. Sieve the result through a tea ball strainer to remove the larger pieces which won't grind finely. This will maximize the fresh, aromatic cinnamon flavor. If you use your coffee grinder, it'll also make your coffee taste great.

Now, to business ...

Melt the butter and add the brown sugar to form a creamy paste. Let this mixture caramelize over the heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in the banana liqueur. Heat until the liquor is warmed, about three minutes. Add the bananas, add the rum (preferably warmed), then ignite with a flourish and cook for about 1 - 2 minutes. Here's the showiest way to do this:

Using a long, bent-handled ladle, scoop up some of the warm liquor. Hold it a foot or two above the chafing dish and ignite the liquor in the ladle. VERY CAREFULLY, pour the liquor into the dish. A column of flame will descend from the ladle into the dish, which will ignite with a marvelous *poof*! Keep a pal nearby, subtly wielding a fire extinguisher. Try not to become a human torch in the process.

Otherwise, if you're too chicken (and I would never make fun of you for being too chicken to mess around with flaming alcohol), just ignite the rum in the chafing dish. It's safer.

Agitate to keep the flame burning, and add a few pinches of "voodoo dust" to the flame. The cinnamon will sparkle orange in the blue flame, and looks really neat.

Let the flames go out. Serve over ice cream if you wish, but some hardcores like me like it just like it is. Yum.

Variations: one may substitute any fruit for this dish that has a correspondingly flavored liqueur -- peaches, pears, whatever.


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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)