Hi hi hi hi and welcome to the second post in our new How to Become a Better Cook series!
In case you missed the first post — 8 Tips to Improve Your Cooking — what we’re doing here is simple. Twice a month, we’re skipping a recipe post and instead sitting down with some tips and tricks to help both novice chefs and confident cooks alike improve their skills in the kitchen.
No matter how experienced or inexperienced you are, it is my hope that this series will help you become more confident as a cook.
So grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine and we’ll start post number 2: All About Searing!
Whether you’re paleo, AIP, vegan, or you eat everything, this simple technique can help anyone achieve more delicious, more richly flavored food without having to add any special seasonings or novelty ingredients.
Let’s jump in!
First off, let me say: I love searing my food. In fact, I generally love cooking foods at high heat at some point during their journey from fridge to table. It’s my little known secret to making consistently delicious food.
When I serve a meal, people often ask me how I’ve seasoned my meat or my veggies. They’re usually shocked when they find out that I’ve only used sea salt and/or pepper!
The secret to the rich flavor in my food comes from cooking it at a high heat to bring out the natural (and caramelized) flavors of my ingredients. We’ll talk about roasting (cooking food at high heat in the oven) in a later post, but today, let’s talk about searing — cooking food at a high heat on the stove.
Before we go any further, let’s talk definitions.
When you sear something, you are cooking it quickly over high heat on the stove with the goal of getting a caramelized crust on the outside of your ingredient.
Searing is not usually used as a way to cook food all of the way through. It’s just a way to deepen and enrich the natural flavors of an ingredient before you cook it fully.
While it is often said that searing meat “locks in the juices” so it stays more tender during cooking, this is not actually true. Instead, what searing is doing is simply adding unique flavor. Cooking that ingredient (usually meat) quickly at such a high heat adds a layering of flavors — the rich, caramelized crust on the outside encasing the tender, juicy meat inside. In a very simple way, this technique takes whatever you are cooking and adds a new, smoky flavor complexity that cannot be achieved by adding seasonings.
Let’s look at some tips to ensure that you’re consistently properly searing your ingredients:
1. Make sure that whatever you are cooking is completely dry. I talk about this nearly every time I post a recipe with meat because it makes such a difference. When we’re cooking meat with high heat to get a flavorful crust, it must be dry. If it’s not, it will steam instead of sear, and steamed meat is not textured or flavorful. To get the perfect sear, try using a couple of paper towels to dry the moisture on your meat or vegetables before you add them to the hot oil.
2. Use only simple seasonings. If you use too many seasonings, you will likely run into two problems: a. You won’t be able to fully taste and appreciate the caramelization that searing is giving you, and b. You’ll end up burning or searing the seasonings instead of searing the meat or vegetable itself. I usually use just sea salt and black pepper to season my food and still always find myself with an incredibly flavorful meal.
3. USE THE RIGHT PAN. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. If you don’t own a cast-iron pan, please get chu one ASAP! I love all of my cast iron pans, and they are the only pans that I want to use to give deep caramelization to my food. You can also use a stainless steel skillet with great success, but, for the love of God, do not use nonstick pans!!!
4. Use a good saturated fat. I’ve already talked about how fat is essential in good cooking, but it bears much repeating! I always use butter, ghee, or coconut oil in high heat cooking. Whether you use on of these three or not, make sure that whatever oil you’re using has a high smoke point. (Note: Olive oil does not.)
5. Prep the pan in this order: Heat the pan first until a drop of water added to the pan fizzles, then add oil. Let the oil get really hot, then add your ingredient(s). You want both your pan and your oil to get evenly good and hot before we add any ingredients to the pan.
6. Never, never, never crowd the pan. It is tempting to want to cook your meal as quickly as possible, but this is the quickest way to dismantle the effectiveness of all of the techniques above. Crowding the pan means your ingredients will end up releasing their moisture into the pan instead of forming a rich crust. The heat also can’t circulate evenly around the pan and gets cooled down by the released moisture. As a result, your ingredients will end up being steamed at medium heat instead of being seared over high heat. Take your time and sear your ingredients in batches. Trust me, it’s worth it and only takes a few minutes longer!
And there you have it! Six tips to ensure the best sear on your meat or vegetables.
I hope you enjoyed this post and that you stay tuned for the next post in our How to Become a Better Cook series!
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