Getting the perfect sear on a piece of meat or fish is so satisfying. Not only does it look great, but the flavour is enhanced tenfold too: it’s all down to the Maillard reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars.
Searing is a crucial part of cooking meat and to a certain extent fish and even vegetables. The initial contact with a hot pan caramelises the surface of the ingredient, boosting flavour as well as sealing in interior moisture and flavour. It is the first, and some would say, most important step in the process of cooking meat.
Which Pan is Best
The best pan for searing is a cast iron pan or skillet, this is because the material allows for a quick and even transference of heat to the pan surface for an even and deep sear. Of course you will have to add fat or oil tot the pan to prevent the meat or fish from sticking to the surface. Olive oil will burn and a lower temperature than seed or other plant-based oils, but the best fat to sear with is butter.
The Right Pan Temperature
For searing, you want your pan hot, but not too hot. The effective searing range is about 300°F to 500°F. (150 °C to 250 °C). Place the pan on the heat source and add the fat or oil, when the oil is smoking and the pan is too hot to hold the palm of your hand over for more than a couple of seconds, you are ready to add you meat for searing.
Don’t Flip it Too Soon
A mistake that many people make when searing meat is to flip it too soon. It can be tempting to take some form of action as you are standing over a pan waiting for the meat to sear. If you flip the meat too soon, you will begin to cook the meat below the surface without obtaining the all-important caramelisation on the external layer of the meat. Neither should you abandon your meat at this stage to attend to other tasks as it will require your full attention to get just the right amount of sear without your meat sticking to the pan. Wait until one side is showing the dark coloration of caramelisation before carefully and lovingly flipping your meat over to the other side. Pay attention the amount of oil or fat on the pan when you flip as it might require a top up at this stage.
How to Sear Fish
Fish is a delicate meat but it sears very well on medium to high heat. Leave the skin on the fish fillet as the meat will fall apart otherwise, just make sure to score the skin with deep, diagonal cuts before searing. A quick sear of between 30 and seconds will suffice the fillet may arc or curl when exposed to the heat so it’s important that the skin side gets an even sear.
There is a lot more to searing than simply adding the meat to the pan and any chef will tell you that it is probably the most important step when cooking a steak or a nice piece of fish. Patience and timing are key to a successful sear. Remember don’t turn or prod the meat unnecessarily, observe carefully and act decisively when the sear is done.