A deep, rich stew; a juicy, tender steak; and a delicate, flaky piece of fish all have one thing in common. Each one started out in a screamin’ hot pan. Taking the time to properly sear your proteins makes all the difference in the final product, but it’s a step home cooks often forget. And I don’t blame them; the prospect of a smoking pan, burning meat, and an earsplitting smoke detector can be slightly intimidating! But fear not, today’s Thursday Tips and Tricks will walk you through how to perfectly sear your meat because here at Amy Burns the Recipe Book we realize that sometimes you have to set off a few smoke detectors for that perfect filet.
Why It’s Important:
Browned meat is flavorful meat. By searing the outside of your protein over high heat you’re doing a couple of things. First, no one ever anxiously awaited table side for a grey, anemic roast to come out of the oven. Searing your meat creates a deep brown, crusty exterior. It’s what you think of when you lust after a thick hunk of meat. Not only does it make your meal more visually appetizing, it actually creates a more complex, meaty, savory flavor. Searing makes meat look and taste better, but it also helps build rich, deep flavors for sauces, gravies, and stews.
What You’ll Need:
A heavy bottomed pot: I like cast iron or an enameled Dutch oven. Stainless steel works well for more delicate proteins like fish or scallops. Just don’t use non-stick here, people. You’ll never get the sear you’re looking for from the slippery surface. And don’t worry about your meat sticking to the pan. When the meat is properly seared it will naturally release form the pan. If you think you’ve got a good crust going on and try to flip your meat and find there’s some resistance, leave it, it’s not done searing.
Metal tongs: Tongs are clutch when you’re trying to flip a giant hunk of meat. Forks pierce the meat and let the juices out and spatulas tend to lead to a lot of oil splashing. Avoid both by picking up a few tongs for your kitchen.
Oil: The oil you use to sear is important. Some oils become rancid (and possibly even carcinogenic) when heated past the smoking point. Olive oil is great for low to no-heat applications, but skip it for searing meats. I like grape seed oil. It’s relatively inexpensive and stands up to the high heat needed for searing. You could also use canola, safflower, coconut, or peanut oil.
How To Do It:
First things first. Take your meat out of the fridge about an hour before cooking. A room temperature piece of meat doesn’t seize up in a smokin’ hot pan and makes for a more tender final product.
Preheat your pan to medium-high heat. Trust me on this. I’m a person who thinks that if medium-high is good, high must be better, but a couple of experiencecs burning my oil and scorching the outside of my meat and I wizened up. This process takes a little time, I’d say between 5-10 minutes.
While you’re waiting for your pan to heat up, season your protein. Be generous here. A hearty layer of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper makes for a perfect crust when seared at high temperatures.
Add enough oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pan (about a tablespoon, depending on the size of your pan). Now let the oil heat up. You’ll know it’s ready when the oil in the pan is shimmery and jussst starts to smoke.
Ok let ‘er rip. I mean, gently lay your meat into the pan. But don’t overcrowd! Putting too much meat in the pan will lead to steaming instead of searing and no one wants that. A good rule of thumb to avoid overcrowding is to make sure none of the meat is touching the sides of the pan or another piece of meat. Work in batches if you’re searing a lot of meat for stews and such.
If you’ve heated the pan properly, you’ll hear the most delightful hiss when the meat hits the oil. Now you’ve got to be a little patient here. It really is a virtue when it comes to searing the perfect piece of meat. Let each side sear about 3-5 minutes. Don’t touch it! You’ll know it’s ready to flip when you can easily remove it from the bottom of the pan.
Once you’ve seared all sides of your meat, you’ve got a few options. You can move your pan from the stove to the oven to finish cooking or you can add liquid to braise tougher cuts of meats for stews or sauces.
Whether you’re making a steak or stew, don’t get rid of the brown crusty bits at the bottom of the pan. That’s where all your flavor is hiding out. Add a little chicken stock or wine, a pat or two of butter, whisk together, and you’ve got an amazing quick pan sauce. If you’re looking to build a sauce or stew you plan on simmering for a good long while, use some liquid to “deglaze” the pan (“Deglaze” is just a fancy word that means loosening the flavorful brown crusty bits from the bottom of the pan with your favorite Merlot or broth).
Enjoy your hunk of meat! If you’ve followed the steps above, it’ll be crusty and brown on the outside and flavorful and juicy on the inside. And if you need any tools to get started, check out Amy Burns the Recipe Book’s brand new SHOP where you can find all of the kitchen essentials that I’ve managed to cram into my small kitchen.