I’m a sucker for a challenge. I absolutely cannot resist a little competition. Throw down a gauntlet, and I am compelled to pick it up.

That’s probably one of the reasons that I love bananas Foster so much: it owes its existence to a challenge. In the 1950s, New Orleans was a major port of entry for bananas shipped from Latin America. Owen Brennan, owner of the eponymous French-Creole restaurant Brennan’s, was no fool: his brother Joe’s produce firm, Brennan’s Processed Potato Company, was running a large surplus of bananas and he wanted to make the...

I’m a sucker for a challenge. I absolutely cannot resist a little competition. Throw down a gauntlet, and I am compelled to pick it up.

That’s probably one of the reasons that I love bananas Foster so much: it owes its existence to a challenge. In the 1950s, New Orleans was a major port of entry for bananas shipped from Latin America. Owen Brennan, owner of the eponymous French-Creole restaurant Brennan’s, was no fool: his brother Joe’s produce firm, Brennan’s Processed Potato Company, was running a large surplus of bananas and he wanted to make the most of these readily available fruit.

He challenged one of his chefs to come up with a banana dish that could be served at his restaurant. So the chef Paul Blangé (working with Owen’s sister Ella, who later took over the restaurant, and was largely responsible for its subsequent success) set about recreating a dish that the Brennans’ mother used to make in the family home.

Bananas Foster — named after Owen’s friend Richard Foster — was born, and it became the restaurant’s signature pudding for their celebrated “Brennan’s breakfast” (you have to admire any breakfast that not only serves pudding, but has a signature one), to follow their turtle soup and eggs Hussarde. Brennan’s is still there today in New Orleans, still serving bananas Foster. And it’s as popular as ever — 35,o00lb of bananas are used by the restaurant in the dish each year.

But of course, an origin story only takes you so far. Luckily, bananas Foster has more going for it. It’s a great dish: bananas sautéed until they are caramelized and golden, but still holding their shape, bathing in a rum-cinnamon butterscotch (and plenty of it), and topped with a generous boule of vanilla ice cream. Hot, cold, sweet, salty, boozy, spiced: it has everything.

And then there’s the drama of it! Flambéing! Live fire! At Brennan’s, bananas Foster has always been served tableside, so the alcohol in the sauce is ignited in front of you. I will level with you: I do not transport my pan of bananas to the dining table before setting them alight. I ignite them on the stove, and then stay firmly in one place, normally shouting “Fire!” in a tone which could connote excitement or panic, depending on how well you know me.

Traditionally, the pudding is flambéed with a mixture of rum and banana liqueur. Banana liqueur is fabulous, a delicious lurid yellow, but it is not multipurpose, and a recipe that serves two people bananas Foster calls for a scant ⅓ fl oz of it. Now — and I can only speak for myself here — I don’t often have a bottle of banana liqueur knocking about my cocktail cabinet. Perhaps you do, or maybe this is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to make a fluorescent addition to your home bar, in which case, go wild!  But otherwise, it is absolutely fine to just substitute that banana liqueur with a little extra rum.

Go for bananas which aren’t too ripe, otherwise they’ll collapse on you as they cook, and if you don’t have a long spatula to help you lift them out of the pan, it can be easier to slice the bananas in half as well as splitting them lengthways. To top it off, I add toasted pecans to the sauce to bring a little texture, and because pecans feel appropriate given New Orleans’ love for praline.

Serves two | Takes 10 mins

  • 1 oz salted butter
  • 1¾ oz dark soft brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 bananas, peeled and halved along their length (ripe but firm)
  • ⅘ fl oz dark or golden rum (or ½ fl oz rum and ⅓ fl oz banana liqueur)
  • 1 oz pecans
  • Vanilla ice cream to serve
  1. Place the pecans in a robust frying pan over a medium heat and toast them, shuffling the pan until you can smell the nuts, then decant from the pan and set them to one side. Once cool, roughly chop
  2. Melt the butter and sugar together with the cinnamon in the same pan (which must be big enough to hold the bananas) until the sugar has completely dissolved
  3. Add the bananas cut side down and cook them until they begin to soften and are caramelizing nicely
  4. In a small pan, warm the rum over a low heat. When it is warm, pour it over the sizzling bananas, and tip the pan carefully as you light the fumes with a long-handled stove lighter (a long match will also do, or professional chefs use the gas hob on a high flame). Let the flames burn themselves out. Add the chopped pecans, and swirl the pan to coat the nuts with the sauce
  5. Place the bananas in dishes, and spoon some of the sauce over them. Scoop a generous ball of vanilla ice cream and place it alongside the bananas, drizzling with the rest of the sauce, and finally spoon the pecans on top

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s UK magazine. Subscribe to the World edition here.