Cooking Class: Searing

A fair number of meat, poultry and some seafood recipes call for you to sear the protein before further cooking. Searing is a direct-heat technique used most often in grilling, braising, roasting or sautéing in which the surface of food is cooked quickly at a high temperature in order to produce a sort of crust on its exterior. For the most part, the terms browning and blackening refer to this same technique. Typically after searing, food (particularly larger, thicker cuts or pieces) is cooked at a somewhat lower temperature to finish. In the case of grilling, food may be moved from a high/direct-heat portion of the grill to a cooler/indirect one. In braising, the caramelized crust adds flavor, color and generally enriches the liquid in which the food is cooked.

SearingSome people suggest that searing "locks in moisture" or "seals in juices," but such widespread myths, though often repeated, are false. While many famous chemists, food scientists, chefs and authors have actively perpetuated these ideas over the last 160-plus years, searing has been legitimately demonstrated to produce greater loss of moisture versus cooking to the same internal temperature without searing beforehand. Experiments suggest that this initial exposure of protein to high heat destroys the cell walls on its exterior surface, causing the affected cells to lose the moisture trapped within. Regardless of whether food is seared first or not, it will continue to lose moisture throughout the cooking process.

Though it causes food to lose moisture, searing is still a vital cooking technique; it creates rich caramel flavor, enhances the appearance of food and provides textural dimension, increasing palatability. For many recipes, searing at the end of a cooking process may be just as effective in producing these effects.

Searing Tips

  • Let the protein stand at room temperature for a short while before cooking.
  • If necessary, pat protein with paper towels to remove surface moisture.
  • Ensure the pan or grill is very hot.
  • If you're searing a lean cut, add oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
  • Wait for the oil to shimmer and ripple, but do not allow it to smoke. Using vegetable or peanut oil will allow for a higher temperature, as they have a higher smoke point than olive oil or butter.
  • Carefully place the food in the pan fat- or skin-side down.
  • If your food sticks, your pan/oil/grill may not have been hot enough. Let it cook a little longer until it releases easily from the pan or grill.
  • Sear all sides, even the ends of roasts and the sides of thick steaks and chops.
  • If your food won't stay put, try using the side of the pan to stabilize it or hold it in place with long tongs, taking care to avoid splattering oil.

Add new comment