If you’re deciding how to cook a steak, chicken, fish, scallops, or other proteins, consider searing before you cook. This simple technique gives your recipes rich, delicious savory flavor and a restaurant-quality look. It’s a simple step that transforms everyday recipes into something sublime.
What Is Searing?
Searing is the salt and pepper of cooking techniques. It’s all about getting that perfect brown, crispy exterior on meat (or even vegetables) and developing flavor and texture. When meat is cooked at a high temperature over dry heat, it undergoes a Maillard reaction—a chemical reaction that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. Think of it as caramelization for meat. The Maillard reaction is responsible for gorgeous, mouthwatering meat that puts gray, chewy, un-seared cuts to shame.
Most of the time, you use searing as the first step, then finish cooking in the oven. Sometimes you can use searing to cook food all the way through: Foods like tuna, veggies, and thin cuts of meat can cook thoroughly in the time it takes to sear.
Why You Should Sear
Many people talk about searing to seal in juices, but it’s time to set the record straight. That’s a myth. Searing actually causes meat to lose some moisture. Contrary to popular belief, searing is all about building flavor and texture, and creating fond that can be used to make pan sauces.
How to Sear Meat in a Stainless Steel Pan
- Pick your pan. You need a high-quality pan that can withstand high temperatures. The best choice is a stainless steel or cast-iron skillet. Traditional nonstick pans are made for low-to medium-heat cooking, so they aren’t recommended. Use a pan that’s big enough for all your food. If your pan is overcrowded, the meat will steam instead of sear.
- Prep the meat. Start with fully thawed meat and put it out at room temperature for a while to rest. Cut or prepare it for the way you’ll cook it later.
- Dry the meat. When it comes to a perfect sear, water is the enemy. Pat the meat dry with paper towels—get it completely dry!
- Season. Just before cooking, sprinkle with salt and pepper, or your favorite seasoning blend. The seasoning will stick to the surface of your meat and help create that amazing crust.
- Add a tablespoon of oil. The oil isn’t there to keep food from sticking: It’s a great conductor and helps transfer the heat from the pan to your food. You want to use one with a high smoke point like canola, grapeseed, or extra-light olive oil.
- Get the pan hot. High temperatures are necessary to get the deep-brown sear you want. Preheat your pan over medium-high heat for 3–5 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the oil begins to shimmer and moves around the pan like water.
- Add the meat. Gently set the meat into the pan. It should start sizzling and stick to the bottom of the pan. If you’re cooking multiple pieces of meat, leave about an inch in between pieces, and cook in batches if you need to.
- Let it cook. Once you put the meat in the pan, it’s hard to resist the temptation to peek. But that meat needs a few minutes undisturbed to develop a perfect crust. After a few minutes, shake the pan a little. If the meat releases, it’s ready to flip. It should be a deep brown color.
- Keep cooking. Follow your recipe!
Our Toasted Orzo Skillet With Shrimp recipe is a great way to practice your new searing skills. Check out the video below to see how it’s made.
Want more? Watch Tim in our test kitchen demonstrate how to make the perfect seared steak.