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David Lissner
for restaurants

Eat this! Bananas Foster, a hot retro dessert from New Orleans

The Chicago Firehouse Chef Cesar Reyes flames bananas Foster. (Photos by Joseph Storch, Chicago Food Photographer.)

The Chicago Firehouse Chef Cesar Reyes flames bananas Foster. (Photos by Joseph Storch, Chicago Food Photographer.)

What it is: A dessert of warm caramelized bananas flambeed with cognac or rum and served with ice cream, bananas Foster is a signature dish of New Orleans.

Where it comes from: Paul Blangé, the Netherlands-born chef at New Orleans’ Brennan’s restaurant, created the dessert in 1951. At the time, New Orleans was the foremost U.S. port of entry for bananas shipped from Central and South America. To promote the imports, Owen Edward Brennan, the restaurant’s owner and founder, challenged his chef to include the fruit in a new dish.

For inspiration, Blangé apparently drew on Auguste Escoffier, who had created a similar flaming fruit dessert, cherries jubilee, for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

Blangé’s banana recipe, named for Richard Foster, a civic-minded friend and frequent customer of Owen Brennan’s, was featured in Holiday magazine and soon became a huge hit. Today, Brennan’s flambes some 50,000 pounds of bananas annually.

What to do with it: Traditionally, bananas Foster is cooked and flamed tableside, as they do at Brennan’s and locally at The Chicago Firehouse in the South Loop, and makes a dramatic presentation. You can use a chafing dish, an electric skillet or a frying pan set on an electric hot plate. If you have none of these, you can prepare the dish in your kitchen and simply do the flambe at the table.

The Chicago Firehouse’s bananas Foster
Chef Cesar Reyes

1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 firm banana, peeled and thickly sliced
1 ounce banana liquor
1/2 ounce cognac, warmed
Scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream

Melt the sugar and butter in a chafing dish or frying pan over medium-high heat, add the banana, stir to coat, and cook just until the sugar caramelizes on the fruit. Don’t let the bananas get mushy.

Add the banana liquor. Set the cognac afire and pour over the contents of the pan. When the fire goes out, pour into a serving dish and top with a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream. 1 serving. (The recipe may be quadrupled.)

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Bonus: Harry Chapin, “30,000 Pounds of Bananas,” 1977.