Cooking Meat: And the Science of the Sear

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To sear or not to sear – that is the question.

Whether ‘tis juicer or tastier on the tongue

The claims and counterclaims of outrageous bloggers

Or to take forks against a sea of evidence

And, by opposing, end them. To taste, to eat

 

Old Cast Iron Frying Pan (1) Apologies
to Mr. Shakespeare but I’ve been experimenting with searing meats and digging
around regarding the ‘science’ of searing meat and it is like entering a debate
on whether the earth is still round.

Only one
point seems to be universally agreed upon: searing meat at temperatures above
310F/154C will brown the meat. . Browning is also known
in food nerd circles as the Maillard reaction, so if you want to show off,
you can say, “Oh my dear, you have achieved a lovely Maillard reaction on my
steak this evening.”  This will
however result in your dear one cutting you off from any further sips of wine.

 

Where
the nerds circle like angels on the head of a pin is whether or not searing
‘seals’ in juices
or actually results in a drier piece of meat.  Frankly, I don’t think that’s the issue.
What I enjoy is the contrast between crust and the meaty middle and I don’t
care if its scallops or steak, I want crusty crunch on the outside and soft on
the inside. Sort of how I like my man to be, but that might be too much
information.

 

If
you like to sear here are some guidelines:

       1) Use a heavy pan.  If you
use a lightweight, flimsy pan you will scorch not sear. The lightweight pan
concentrates heat in small areas and doesn’t let the heat spread evenly. That heavily used pan you see in the photo was my grandmothers pan and it's been in constant use for probably 75 years.

       2) Preheat the pan until it is really hot. I use my handy dandy infrared
digital thermometer. Try not to put the meat in the pan until the temp reaches
around 450F/230C.

   3)   
Use a dry pan; don’t put any fat in the pan. Here is where I’ve been
experimenting and I’ve found that no, you don’t get stickage at high temps and
you run the risk of adding too much fat and then the meat steams instead of
sears. When the meat hits the pan, resist the temptation to move it. Let it do
its thing and form a crust. Once you have the crust, you can freely flip the
meat.

       4) It’s gonna make smoke. Santa, if your are listening, I’d like a better
ventilation system.

       5) Once you’ve seared both sides…turn down the heat!  In my cast iron pan, with say a 1 ½”
thick steak, I can now remove the pan from the heat, cover it and it will continue to
cook. We like our meat pretty rare, so you’ll have to experiment with this
technique to find the best way to cook meat to your liking.

       6)  
If you want to pretend that you grilled the meat, take a metal skewer
and heat it mad hot in the oven. Using gloves, remove the skewer from the heat and
press it into the meat, essentially branding it like they did in old western
movies. I can’t imagine anyone actually doing this, but at least you know you
can.

 

In
case you are now hungry: Seared Steak with Parsley Butter

 Steak
Bistro Style

Parsley:
take the leaves from 5 or 6 stalks of fresh parsley

1
good-sized clove of garlic

3T
butter (you won’t really need this much, but it tastes great on chicken, pork,
scallops, so you may as well make a little extra)

 

Place
the 3 ingredients in a little blender and whirrrr away until you have a smooth
green butter.

 

Preheat
your searing pan.

Generously
salt the steak.

Sear,
let it rest, and place a chunk of the parsley butter on top of the steak. Done
to perfection. Some roasted or boiled potatoes on the side will soak up all the
extra juices quite nicely.

 And
for anyone who is trying to remember the words to the Hamlet verse that I
bastardized at the beginning of the post, rest easy, here it is:

 To be or not to be – that is the question: 


Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer



The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 



Or to take arms against a sea of troubles



And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep⎯

 

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