Properly searing meat. This is a basic kitchen skill that will really elevate your proteins. It isn’t hard to do, but it does take some patience. Here are the keys to getting a gorgeous (yes, I really do think it’s gorgeous) sear: 1. have a dry surface on your protein, and 2. have a screaming hot pan. Let’s take a closer look.
At a bare minimum, you want to rinse and dry off the protein. Not just give it a little pat with a paper towel, like really get it dry. Really dry. Any surface moisture will turn into steam once it hits the hot pan, creating a little sauna in between the protein and the pan and making it basically impossible to get that lovely, tasty sear. So get it completely dry! If possible, especially with red meat, let it dry age in the fridge. Here’s how that works. Rinse and pat dry, put on a plate (or, better yet, a wire rack on a sheet pan so the air can circulate all around the protein), salt generously, put in fridge. The salt will draw out some of the internal moisture, which concentrates the flavor. This is a good thing. You can do this in the morning for dinner that night, or even the previous night!
I know that some of you may be thinking, “Raw uncontained meat in the fridge? Yuck!” And it’s true, there is a possibility of contamination. But, you are all smart, savvy people, so I trust you to keep other food (and small hands) away from the meat while it does its thing. At least 30 minutes before cooking, take the meat out of the fridge to let it warm up a bit. This will help it to cook more evenly.
Ok, so now you have room temperature protein with a dry surface. Next, the pan. Let your pan (Which needs to be big enough for the protein to be in there without crowding. Crowding causes the food to steam, which will sabotage your sear.) heat up for several minutes over medium-high heat. Wondering if your pan is hot enough? Here’s how you can tell. Run your fingers under the faucet, and fling a few drops of water into the pan. If they skitter around the pan for a few seconds before evaporating, your pan is hot enough. If they don’t, keep on heating. Once you’ve reached screaming hot (yes, that’s the technical term), add enough oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. You’ll want to use an oil with a high smoke point, such as canola oil. Now we let the oil heat up just to the point where it starts to smoke. Now it’s time to sear!
Salt and season the protein. Do this right before adding it to the pan, so the salt doesn’t have a chance to pull out moisture. Moisture is the enemy! Carefully add your protein (use tongs!), laying it away from you so you don’t get splattered with hot oil. Once the protein is in the pan, LEAVE IT ALONE! Don’t push it around, this isn’t a stir-fry. Don’t peek, patience is a virtue. Leave it be for 2-4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the protein. Then, and only then, turn it over and let the other side get nice and seared. I know you want to fiddle, but leave it alone! After another 2-4 minutes, remove the protein and let it finish cooking in the oven (if it’s chicken), or if it’s done let it rest (if it’s steak).
Make use of the lovely fond (the yummy brown stuff left in the pan) and make a pan sauce! Add some wine or stock, some herbs, and scrape up that fond. Let it reduce, then finish with a splash of vinegar or lemon juice, and maybe a teaspoon of butter.
Go forth and sear!!!