Forget Mini Kitchen Torches, a Full-Size Torch Is So Much Better
In my cooking life—both as a professional chef and as a home cook—I have frequently used a small kitchen torch. They’re useful for really delicate work, like caramelizing the top of a crème brûlée and. well, not much else.
For real flaming help in the kitchen, though, I much prefer a full-size blowtorch. Of course, it, too, can caramelize sugar. But it’s also good for many, many other tasks that a cute little kitchen torch can’t really accomplish. And once you get accustomed to how it feels in your hand, I find it’s actually easier to wield than the little guy too.
A full sized torch makes quicker work of those fancy sugar crusts—as well as toasted meringues. (The brilliant part: You can darken those meringue peaks without warming the rest of your nice, chilly lime or lemon pie.) You can use a big torch to warm the stainless-steel bowl of a stand-mixer as it beats cold butter that’s destined to be room-temperature butter for cake. But you’re really not limited to the realm of desserts.
A full-size torch is an excellent tool for savory cooking, and not just for sous vide bros who cook their steaks in bags and need a way to add some char on the outside. A big torch is especially handy if you don’t have a gas stove at home. Allow me to explain:
The Best Way to Char Peppers for Peeling
Have you tried to balance a red pepper on your gas stovetop to blacken it before peeling, or tried to watch your broiler unevenly blackening a tray of peppers? Charring and peeling peppers, whether they’re sweet or spicy, can be accomplished much more efficiently by brandishing a blowtorch.
I learned about torch-roasted red peppers from chef Greg Baxtrom of Olmsted, who uses a similar technique to remove the skin from fresh plums. It’s clever for a few reasons: I find that using a stove’s eye (or a broiler) to char or warm anything requires quite a bit of monitoring—and even when you’re watching carefully, it’s hard to get all the sides of every pepper evenly blackened.
I’ve also found that torch-blackened peppers retain a more sturdy texture than broiled peppers or peppers roasted on a stovetop, which is especially useful if you plan on stuffing them.
Here’s how you do it: Just pierce the stem end of the pepper with a fork. Hold the fork handle with one hand and turn on the blowtorch. Wave the torch’s flame back and forth against the surface of the pepper—you may have to play with distance a bit depending on the output of the torch you’re using. Once you figure out the proper distance, you’ll notice the skin will begin to crackle and blacken quickly. Work your way all around the pepper, turning the fork as necessary, until the crackling has stopped and the pepper is totally blackened.
Place the pepper in a bowl and repeat with any other peppers. Cover the bowl with a lid or plate and set aside for several minutes to let the peppers steam. After about 5 minutes, use a towel to wipe the surface of the peppers. You’ll notice the black skin wipes easily away, leaving behind a glistening “roasted” red pepper.
Is it dinner or is it art? Who’s to say?
Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell
The Best Way to Warm Tortillas
Have you ever warmed a tortilla directly on your stovetop burner to give it a little char? It works, but if you’re heating up a lot of tortillas for a dinner party and you only have four burners, you’ll be standing alone over the oven heating up round after round while your friends enjoy their tacos. A blowtorch makes it easier to warm so many tortillas all at once, improving the texture and adding just a touch of toasty flavor.
The little ones may make you feel safe, but they're a pain to use. A big torch? Now that's useful.