special ops: flame torch

For those special moments in time when you need to caramelize some sugar, melt a cheese topping, or toast meringue to a golden brown, you can always pop the thing in the oven, pre-set to broil, but hey, what’s the fun in that? Nothing beats a spectacle at the end of a meal quite like caramelizing the sugar on top of creme brulee with a flame torch right in front of your guests. If you really want to put on a show and play with fire, get yourself a hardcore propane torch you can find at hardware stores. (Of course, don’t forget to get yourself a small fire extinguisher for the kitchen, too, while you’re there.) If you prefer not to risk setting your kitchen and the rest of the house on fire, stick with the smaller butane torches ;) I actually have both… the smaller one I use for more delicate tasks like browning meringue on top of mini lemon tarts.

To get the most even-browning, I turn to my trusty BernzOmatic Pencil Flame Torch that I purchased from Lowe’s. If you plan on using one of these, you’ll also need a torch head and a starter. I like this heavy duty torch, but it is a little intimidating to use at first, and dangerous to use in smaller, confined kitchens. It can also be frustrating at times to get a flame to spark using the starter. If you’re willing to spend more, you’re better off getting a self-igniting torch head.

Cooking supply stores usually carry the mini-torches designed solely for making creme brulee, but I decided not to invest in one of these since reviews are usually mixed and prices are actually quite high for such a small device. What I really wanted was just a smaller butane version of my propane torch head. I searched everywhere and actually found it at what is now my favorite kitchen/restaurant supply store in LA, suitably named, “A Chef’s Paradise”… Surfas!
I bought my ChefMaster Professional Chef’s Torch (head only) that features push-button automatic ignition and adjustable flame. I refill it with standard 8 oz. butane canisters (the same ones used to light up portable gas stoves). They’re easy to replace and super inexpensive ;) Japanese food markets like Nijiya and Mitsuwa sell them by the pack or individually for about $2.

I think my next torch will be an automatic starter one with a 90deg head so that I don’t have to tilt the torch body upside down to get a nice brulee. This becomes a problem when you’re low on gas. The next time I go to Musha in Santa Monica, I’ll pay extra attention to the torch they’re using. (They serve this mackerel dish that is seared using a flame torch, table-side. It’s quite a spectacle!)

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