A flamed orange peel is a guaranteed head-turner, especially in a dimly lit bar. But beyond the theater of igniting a miniature fireball with a spray of citrus oil, adding fire to an orange peel can contribute enormously to the aromatic properties of the cocktail, which in turn affects the flavor of the drink.
Put Some Fire On It
“It slightly mellows out the bright citrus notes that a standard orange peel would bring,” explains Pouring Ribbons’ Joaquín Simó. “I’ve heard it described as ‘caramelizing the oils,’ but I prefer to think of it as adding a slightly smoky complexity to the bright orange fragrance.”
Flaming a citrus peel of any kind involves expressing the oils from the skin of the citrus over a drink. The addition of the flame singes the natural oils, adds a hint of smoke. Many, like Simó, use the technique to enhance the flavor of a drink, but it can also be employed for simple aesthetic allure.
“Overall, there are reasons to argue for its flavor,” says Chantal Tseng, a partner in Washington, D.C.’s Mockingbird Hill. “But realistically, nine times out of ten, it puts on a good show. After all, channeling one’s Promethean heritage excites our hidden—or not-so-hidden—pyro tendencies.”
The technique was made famous by Pepe Ruiz, bartender at old Hollywood hangout Chasen’s, in the 1930s. The story goes that Chasen’s regular Dean Martin grew tired of classic Martinis and asked Ruiz for something new. The result was the Flame of Love—a vodka and fino sherry Martini with a long, elaborate flamed twist.
Since then the flamed orange peel has popped up in a number of modern drinks, often those that include a tequila and/or mezcal base, like Bobby Heugel’s genre-bending The Brave, an ice-less combination of mezcal, tequila, Averna and Combier tossed together in a wine glass before being misted over with Angostura bitters and garnished with a flamed orange peel. Jamie Boudreau of Seattle’s Canon plays with fire in one of our favorite drinks, the Latin Trifecta, a savory combination of tequila, sherry and bittersweet Cynar. But the flame dost not be match only with stirred drinks. In Eric Prum and Josh Williams’ aptly-named Citrus and Smoke, they combine mezcal and tonic in a honey-salt rimmed glass, and garnish it with a flamed grapefruit peel for a second layer of smoke.
To add some fire to your next drink session, here’s what to do:
1.) Take a washed, firm-skinned orange and use a sharp knife or vegetable peeler to cut a an ample peel (a silver dollar-sized disk or slightly longer strip works well), taking care to avoid the flesh.
2.) Strike a match and wait a moment for the sulphur from the match head to burn away. (Lighter fluid can affect taste and doesn’t look as impressive—stick to matches.)
3.) Hold the flame near the drink’s surface. With the skin side of the orange facing toward the flame, quickly press your thumb and index fingers toward each other. The citrus oils from the orange will be expelled, ignited, and land in the drink.