The 1950s are associated with many iconic things: poodle skirts, drive-ins, and sock hops, to name just a few. For people who are fans of dessert, or just fans of the culinary arts in general, many would add the birth of a popular dessert to the list of iconic 1950s developments, Bananas Foster. Still most popular in its birthplace, New Orleans, this special dessert has considerable drama and flare, particularly because it employs the flambé method of cooking.
Unlike desserts that have lengthy histories with no clear origins, Bananas Foster has a clear and undisputed history. Paul Blangé, the chef at the famous French Quarter New Orleans restaurant, Brennan’s, created the dessert in 1951. The name Foster was added to the dessert in reference to Stephen Foster, a local business owner who had worked with Edward Brennan on the New Orleans Crime Commission. Foster and Brennan had become good friends while helping to reduce crime in the French Quarter, and Foster became a frequent patron of Brennan’s.
Another reason why Bananas Foster made good sense was because of the location of New Orleans. It was a major shipping port especially for goods shipped from Central and South America. Bananas, a major export, were easy to come by and inexpensive. Bananas Foster quickly gained popularity and is still a fixture and one of the most requested items on the Brennan’s menu.
The classic Bananas Foster is made by sautéing bananas in a mix of rum, butter, brown sugar, sweet spices and banana liqueur. After the bananas are slightly softened and begin to brown, cooks tip the sauté pan slightly to set the alcohol on fire, producing that amazing flambé effect. In restaurants, the dish is often prepared at the table.
You can prepare Bananas Foster with a chafing dish, or perform the “flambé part” by removing the cooked bananas from the stove and then using a long tipped lighter to burn off the alcohol. Caution is required, if you're unused to lighting alcohol on fire. It can be fairly unpredictable, so do this step with care. The bananas are then served over vanilla ice cream, though you could use other flavors like dulce de leche if you prefer.
Though most of the alcohol burns off in the flambé process, a small portion of it does remain, just as with the dessert cherries jubilee. Therefore you may want to reduce the alcohol if you’re making the dish for children, or choose another dessert if friends don’t drink. You can make a delicious “virgin” version of the dish by merely sautéing bananas in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, and perhaps adding a little apple juice to create a sauce.