If you have a flair for dramatic dishes and fancy foods that need to go up in flames before they reach their full taste potential, you have probably thought about learning how to flambé. Pronounced "flahm-BAY," this cooking technique involves adding alcohol to a dish and lighting it on fire. This procedure can be used to get rid of the harsh alcohol flavor and finish off certain dishes.

You are playing with fire here, so exercise extreme caution for your safety and that of those around you. If you have long hair, tie it back and keep it off your face. Do not wear long, bellowing sleeves. Do not have the exhaust fan running. Know exactly where your fire extinguisher is in case of an emergency. Don't be afraid - just be smart.

suggests setting up your station before you start. Are you going to use a serving cart so everyone can see the process, or will you light the fire in the comfort of your own kitchen? If you are going to light it in front of your guests, select a spot that is far enough away from your audience and any centerpieces or flammable objects. Make sure whatever you are going to add the liquor, too, is in a flambé pan, which will have a long handle and rounded, deep sides. You can also use a skillet or large chaffing dish if it has the same characteristics.

Select a liquor or liqueur that is 80 proof or 40 percent alcohol by volume. This means beer, champagne and wine will not work for flambé. Alcohol with a proof of 120 or more is highly flammable and dangerous to work with. Choose something that goes well with what you are cooking.

Warm the brandy or whiskey in a deep sauce pan but do not let it boil. This will burn off the alcohol before you get a chance to flambé. You can also microwave it for 30 to 45 seconds. When you are ready to add the liquor, remove the pan from the heat. Never pour liquor straight from the bottle near an open flame; the stream of alcohol that comes out may attract the flame, causing it to travel up and into the bottle, which would cause the bottle to explode.

Igniting the flames
Once you have safely transferred the liquor to the pan, light it with a long match like the ones used for igniting a fireplace. Make sure to catch the fumes rather than the liquid. Never lean over the dish. If the flame does not start right away, the dish probably is not hot enough. Let it cook until the flames go out, which indicates that the alcohol has burned off. Serve right away.

If you are throwing a fancy dinner party, you may want to practice beforehand so you can safely and impressively execute the steps.

You can use sugar cubes soaked in flavored extract to produce a flaming dessert without using alcohol. Place them along the perimeter of the dish and then light them. Popular flambéed dishes include bananas foster, cherries jubilee and Steak Diane.