I recently had the opportunity to cook at a local event that brings in around 1000 people for a "taste" type event. Most of the folks actually doing the cooking there are serving primarily wild game. The venison, frog legs, duck, etc. are always fantastic but I wanted to try something a little different. It worked well and I wanted to write down how I did it anyway so I figured I'd write it down here.
One of my favorite desserts to cook for guests has always been bananas foster because it's easy to make and impressive to watch. The question was would it translate well to an event with this many people. I decided to give it a try and find out.
I used Alton Brown's recipe with a few modifications. I changed the spices a little and used some cinnamon in place of some of the allspice (partly for the expense of allspice). I also sliced the bananas rather than halving and quartering them for ease of serving issues as well as making them go farther. I also just served it over ice cream. It's not the real deal but it had the same essence. Other than that I kept pretty much to the same ingredients.
The only other big change I made was that I put the rum in on top of the bananas and lit the whole shooting match rather than pulling the bananas out. It just wasn't feasible with the numbers I was working with and I couldn't see where it hurt the finished product at all.
Here's how I did it.
1 large rubber spatula (this is vital, I'll get to why later)
1 butane burner (good quality with fine temp. controls is essential)
1 10-12" nonstick skillet
1 large glass or metal bowl
cutting board and knife for bananas
knife for butter (I forgot this and had to use the banana knife the whole time)
Small serving spoon
Large glass of water
2 boxes of bananas (my boxes had around 80 bananas a piece)
1 handle of good dark rum
1 liter banana liqueur (I used 99 Bananas which was great)
9 pkgs unsalted butter (figuring 4 sticks/pkg)
3 cups nutmeg
1 cup allspice
1 cup cinnamon
7 32 oz pkgs brown sugar
8 gallons vanilla ice cream
The night before:
I went ahead and put all of my brown sugar in a big tub with a lid and put a 1/4 cup measuring cup in with it. I also put all of my spices in a big bowl with a lid and mixed them well and put a teaspoon measuring spoon in with that. All of my ingredients and equipment went in a big cardboard box.
The actual cooking:
I cooked in batches a little bigger than the recipe called for but not too much bigger. This event has lots of other food to eat so it wasn't like I was the only game in town. We did one batch after another for about 2 hours but never had a line longer than 2 batches could handle. I also went even heavier on the bananas for each batch as the lines got a little longer.
My burner stayed on medium pretty much the whole time. I used probably 3 tbsp of butter per batch but found that I could cook it much faster if I put the butter in 1 tbsp at a time (less time to melt). Once the butter was melted I added a heaping 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a heaping tsp. of spices. Once melted I added a good dash of 99 Bananas and let it simmer for maybe 45 seconds.
**Be careful here. You expect the rum to flame up but not necessarily the banana liqueur. They don't call it 99 bananas for nothing. Use it sparingly and be ready for it to ignite.**
In go the banana slices (probably 2 1/2--3 bananas total) and cook just until the sauce has coated the bananas well. Then the rum. I used what I can only describe as a couple of good glugs of rum.
**Another tip here that took my quite a few batches to figure out. If you pour the rum directly on the bananas it will not flame up very well and that's the whole point. Push the bananas and sauce off to one side and pour the rum directly on the skillet. Let it sit for just a second and tip that side of the pan towards the flame and be ready. It will flame up maybe 2 feet in the air. MAKE SURE YOU TELL YOUR CROWD TO STAND BACK OR YOU'LL BE GETTING SUED**
Stir everything together and continue stirring until the flames go away. Cut your burner off and start serving. I served 2-4 banana slices over a good scoop of ice cream in a small styrofoam cup. Make sure you keep your serving spoon in a glass of water in between batches or you will have a big wad of sugar on the end of it very soon.
For us this was a 3 man operation. Me cooking, one guy cutting bananas and floating around where needed, and one man scooping ice cream. You could do it with 2 if you had to.
**Final tip and this is where the rubber spatula and bowl come into play. After each batch clean the skillet as best you can with the rubber spatula dumping any leftover sauce in the glass or metal bowl. I used an extra stryofoam cup and the sugar melted it and made a huge mess.**
Well, that's it. It went great. So great in fact that we are making in an annual thing. Other than a couple of things I mentioned here I wouldn't change a thing. If you have the opportunity there is not many dishes that are more impressive than bananas foster for 1,000.
I love cooking for large groups so I'd love to hear of folks who did cool stuff for bunches of people. What have you cooked for 1,000?