In 1951, New Orleans restaurateur Owen Brennan became an innovator in the field of back-scratching when he named a dessert after his buddy Richard Foster from the New Orleans Crime Commission. Bananas Foster became a customer favorite and was Brennan’s most-ordered item until the French Quarter institution closed last summer. The dessert’s popularity is easy to account for: It is sweet, boozy, sticky, creamy, and flammable. Even if you don’t like bananas, you just might make an exception for bananas Foster.
There are only two problems with Brennan’s recipe, which was actually invented not by Brennan himself but by chef Paul Blangé. The first is that it calls for banana liqueur. Have you ever had banana liqueur? If not, rest assured that it’s just as terrible as it sounds. It belongs to the family of cloying flavored brandies that, like Dan Bern’s 1997 ballad “Marilyn,” I loved when I was a teenager but now have serious qualms about. Unless you’re (a) preparing to throw a rager while your parents are out of town, (b) planning to make a Platanos en Mole Old Fashioned, or (c) both of the above, you have no business being in possession of a bottle of banana liqueur.
So what should you use instead? Kill two birds with one stone by using amaretto, which lends bananas Foster a pleasant almond flavor without interfering with its smooth texture, the way chopped nuts do. (Actual nuts have no place in bananas foster, which should be so soft you’d be able to eat it even if you had no teeth.)
The other problem with Brennan’s bananas Foster recipe is the way it instructs you to light the rum sauce on fire: “tip the pan slightly [into the fire of the burner] to ignite the rum.” Yeah, right—as if anyone’s ever done this without spilling hot butterscotch all over their stove, possibly extinguishing their pilot light in the process. Please, do yourself a favor and use a long match or a kitchen lighter to set your bananas Foster aflame. It’s much easier than this slight-tipping business, and much less likely to result in a visit from your friendly neighborhood firefighters.
Yield: 4 servings
Time: About 30 minutes
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground allspice
¼ cup amaretto
4 bananas, halved lengthwise
¼ cup rum
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1. Put the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a large skillet over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter has melted and the mixture begins to bubble, about 15 minutes. Add the amaretto and cook, stirring, until the mixture is smooth, then raise the heat to medium and add the bananas. Cook until the bananas are coated in the sauce and warmed through, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the rum to the skillet. Light a match or lighter and lower it to the surface of the sauce until it ignites. When the flame subsides, turn off the heat. Divide the ice cream into four bowls, then divide the bananas and sauce among the bowls. Serve immediately.