One piece of equipment you will find in a restaurant kitchen, but which you rarely see in a home kitchen here,* is a salamander broiler. A salamander is a metal box with an opening about three feet wide, usually installed up on the wall above a range or grill. It has a grid to put plates of food on, above which several gas burners combine to create a rolling sheet of blue flame, which is used to glaze, carmelize, brown or simply melt cheese on a dish just before serving.

During my youth I worked in several fine restaurants in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In New Mexico we used the salamander a lot for the local cuisine: burritos and flat enchiladas, smothered with red or green chile and piled high with grated cheese. An industrial-strength salamander radiates a lot more heat than the broiler in your home oven (66,000 BTU/hour). The salamander quickly melts and browns cheese without overcooking the dish underneath. It works so quickly and intensely, on just the surface of the food, that you can actually serve the food right out of the salamander: the plate underneath will cool to a safe serving temperature in a minute or two.

I'm told that a salamander will make a crisper Welsh Rarebit or crème brûlée than is possible with an ordinary broiler or kitchen torch. I've wanted one for a long time --I found it soothing, particularly on high-stress shifts when I was the only cook on the line, to gaze at the flame and feel the heat against my face-- but they don't make them for home use and they are expensive: in the range of US$1,200 to $2,500.

I have been unable to verify the origin of the name. Salamanders, of course, are associated with fire. Folk-lore held that the little red woodland amphibian could be burned up in a fire and arise from the ashes, like a phoenix.

Long before the gas broilers that we now call "salamanders" were invented, the term was used for am implement for toasting or glazing foods, consisting of an iron pan or disk on a long pole. The disk was placed over a fire or stove and heated until it was red-hot, then held over a dish to toast or glaze it. This reference was found by wertperch in Lark Rise to Candleford, a book written by Flora Thompson in 1945 and set in 19th century Oxfordshire:

...thin slices of bacon or ham were spread out on a large plate and taken to the smithy, where the plate was put on the anvil. The smith then heated red-hot one end of a large, flat iron utensil known as the "salamander" and held it above the plate until the rashers were crisp and curled.

*In the United States. morven says "A lot of people have them in England -- anyone with a gas stove can have one, though they generally call it an 'eye-level grill' or something like that".