Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kitchen Disasters: Fire.

I'm notorious for setting things on fire. Usually it's because I put the steak or a rack of lamb too close to the broiler element. A typical conversation between my father and I goes like this:

dad - "You've put the meat too close to the broiler. It's going to catch on fire."
me - "No it won't."
dad - "Yes it will."
me - "No it wo..." whoosh.

He runs to the oven to grab the flaming meat, I run to the kitchen door to open it so he can carry the roasting pan outside. A few minutes in the cold air and the flames die away. Our ovens have little windows in them, so you can see whatever you're cooking; when the food catches on fire it's like having one of those little fireplaces that have fake logs and gas flames. It looks cool until the panic hits you and you run to save your dinner (and to, you know, prevent the house from burning down).

But my most impressive achievement came one day when I was alone in the kitchen and there were no witnesses. This is the moment I like to call the Great Flaming Whiskey Disaster of 2005.

I had been experimenting with different ways of cooking steak. Lately I'd been searing my steaks over a medium flame, in a heavy enameled cast-iron skillet made by Le Creuset. "Pour some whiskey over your steak," said D., my co-worker, "it'll taste better that way." You can see where this is heading. So I seared my steak for a few minutes on both sides, until crusty and approaching medium-rare. There was a bottle of whiskey standing nearby, ready for pouring. I took the pan off the flame and carried it over to the table, poured what I thought was a modest amount of whiskey over the steak, set the pan back on the stove, and turned away to screw the cap back onto the bottle. As I turned back towards the stove, I heard a muffled whoooomp. In my peripheral vision, a blue flash of light blinded me, sending me reeling for a brief moment, and when I could see again there was a column of orange fire shooting straight up from the pan. Three feet in the air. The flames reached up to the exhaust hood over my stove, licking at the fluorescent light inside the hood. It felt like forever until all the whiskey burned off and the flames died, but it was probably only a minute or so. All I could do was stand there, horrified, while visions of my house burning down around me danced in my head. The steak was fine, perfectly charred around the edges, juicy and tender within. But it will be a long time before I attempt this particular trick again.

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