Jul 22, 2009

A River Runs Through Bananas Foster

I grew up just blocks away from the Mississippi River. Fog horns sounding from ships on the river woke me up in the morning and I listened to music drifting from the steam calliope on the paddle wheeler in the afternoon. My dad worked tugboats on the river as a summer job in high school. He now rides the ferry across the river to work everyday. He can't get away from the river and doesn't want to. He thinks nothing beats taking the grandsons out to the levee to throw rocks.

I spent a lot of time along the river. My great uncle often took me to poke around an old, rusted out barge that had been in water for years. The river was his backyard...almost. All we had to do was cross River Road and walk up the levee. He was pretty eccentric and liked to collect things the river deposited along its banks. When the batture was flooded just so, my dad would take my brothers and I out to the river to train the dog to retrieve. That was always fun. Except for the wet dog smell we had to ride back home with. I liked to jog up on the levee. Watching the river traffic made me forget to question why exactly I was jogging in the first place. I sat out on the levee late at night with friends and watched and smelled and felt the fog roll in from the river--a sight and smell and feel that can't be described and managed to mute a handful of rowdy teenagers. And sitting out on the Moon Walk or the raised Artillery Park watching the river and all it has to offer, eatin' some beignets and sippin' cafe au lait (or inhaling a muffaletta, depending on the time of day) was always a treat. My grandparents took me on a riverboat cruise once. The paddle wheeler went through the locks and I thought that was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. And being on the river looking down on rooftops was really something (before "The Storm," anyway). I still have a picture somewhere of the three of us on the boat. The Mississippi has given me many things.

I was always amazed by the weird assortment of items I found washed up on the bank. Fun to wonder where it all came from, how far it had travelled. By the time the river makes its way to New Orleans its basically a drain for the length of the country. In truth, the majority of things I've found are probably just local junk. Barrels of who knows what (better to not), large styrofoam blocks, work gloves, hats, a telephone pole, numerous shoes (none matching), a partially used tube of toothpaste, a broom, a coconut..all things I've seen come from the river. Oh, and Bananas Foster. Wait. What? That's right, without Ol' Man River there'd be no Bananas Foster (and no New Orleans either).

Many things come through the Port of New Orleans and bananas are one of them. In the 1950s bananas were coming in fast and furious. The owner of Brennan's restaurant, Owen Edward Brennan, asked his chef to advertise all these bananas by developing a recipe that utilized them. The chef, Paul Blange, created the now famous banana dessert. He named it after Richard Foster, who was a regular Brennan's customer and the head of the New Orleans Crime Commission--which was responsible for cleaning up the French Quarter (where Brennan's is located)...hey, we may talk funny but we ain't stupid. And there you have Bananas Foster. All because of the Mississippi River. And some bananas. And a fancy chef.

Bananas Foster
from Ms. enPlace

1/2 stick butter
1/2 c brown sugar
4 bananas peeled, halved, then cut lengthwise
1/4 c rum (OR use 1/8 c rum and 1/8 c banana liquor)
Couple pinches cinnamon
Vanilla ice cream

Over medium to medium-high heat, melt butter in a large skillet. Stir in the brown sugar and cook a few minutes, until the sugar mixture is bubbly. Add the bananas and cook until they caramelize on the bottom. Spoon some of the sauce over them as they cook.

Turn off the fire and add the rum or rum and liquor. Turn the heat back on and allow the sauce to begin to bubble (get the alcohol heated). Use a long lighter or kitchen match and ignite the sauce. Sprinkle cinnamon into the flame. When the flames die out, spoon bananas and sauce over ice cream. Serves 4 large portions

Mise en place? Check. I like to dish out the ice cream and put the bowls back in the freezer. That way the bananas stay warm and the syrup stays gooey.

Many recipes include banana liquor as well as rum. I'm not fond of bananas, so I double up the rum and skip the banana liquor.

Melt the butter and add brown sugar. Cook until sugar is melted and bubbly.

Add the bananas. Traditionally, they are sliced lengthwise. But I've seen people do coins, chunks, whatever hits you just right.

Cook the bananas in the sugar until they start to caramelize on the bottom. I spoon some of the sugar mixture over the bananas as they cook.

Now before we go any further you should know something:
It's expected that you make this in front of people, you know, do it up and put on a show. My kitchen is not set up for cooking demos. But, when I make this I gather everyone around the stove and make a big dang deal over it. And they better too if they know what's good for them.

Cut off the fire then add the rum (or rum and banana liquor). But never directly from the bottle..unless you enjoy giving yourself Molotov cocktails. I don't know. I often wonder about you sometimes.

Turn the fire back on and allow the mixture to start to bubble (won't take long). Light it up, dude. Ta da!

See those trails of fire? That's the cinnamon. For added fun, sprinkle cinnamon into the flame. You are so cool.

Ya know...the only way I really like bananas are doused in alcohol and set on fire.

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