9 Tips for Perfectly Searing Meat and Seafood, According to Our Test Kitchen
Whether you're an experienced cook or new to the kitchen, every good home chef needs to master the technique of searing. Searing foods, especially proteins like steak, chicken and seafood, can create a depth of flavor that's unmatched in other cooking methods. When you sear, it can also add color and texture to your ingredients.
Once you master searing, recipes like Rosemary-&-Garlic-Basted Sirloin Steak (pictured above) or Seared Salmon with Pesto Fettuccine will quickly become your go-tos when you need a healthy and delicious meal. To help you achieve searing success, we've pulled together nine tips and tricks that will make imparting flavor a breeze.
9 Tips for Searing Food
Choose the Right Pan
Ingredients like steak, salmon and chicken all react differently when seared, so it's important to have the right pan when you're cooking. If you know you'll be transferring the protein to the oven to finish cooking, be sure to choose an oven-safe pan.
For fish, opt for a nonstick pan, so the delicate skin doesn't stick (we like this 10-inch pan from OXO, $40). Meanwhile, a stainless-steel skillet is great for beef, poultry and pork, with or without the skin (we like this 10-inch skillet from Cuisinart, $38). Or, if you're looking for one pan that works with all proteins, the best option is a cast-iron skillet. According to Adam Dolge, EatingWell's lead recipe developer, cast-iron skillets "hold heat really well and, if seasoned properly, they are nonstick!" (Learn how to season a cast-iron skillet.) We like this affordable 8-inch option from Lodge, $24.
Choose a High-Heat Fat
Aside from the pan, it's also crucial to choose the right fat. Dolge suggests picking an oil that can handle high temperatures. Oils like canola, avocado and sunflower all work well for searing because of their high smoke point. If you're wanting to use butter, choose clarified butter, or ghee, because it has a higher smoke point. (This guide to the best oil to cook with notes the temperatures that different oils can handle.)
Pull Meat out of the Fridge
If you know you'll be searing meat for dinner, remove it from the fridge about 30 minutes before you cook. Room-temperature meat has a better chance at cooking evenly than meat that goes directly from the fridge to the pan. According to the USDA, meat should not sit out for more than two hours in the danger zone, the temperature range between 40℉ and 140℉ where bacteria can grow quickly.
Dry Meat Well
Before you sear proteins, you'll want to dry them off. (If you're making scallops, look for ones labeled "dry" as some scallops are soaked in a solution.) A dry surface encourages a crispy or crusty exterior. If the protein is wet, it will create unwanted steam in the pan. Just be sure to dry off the meat before you season it, so you don't wipe away the spices. Use a paper towel as opposed to a dish towel as paper towels can easily be thrown out to prevent accidental cross-contamination.
Preheat Your Pan
Preheating your pan is one of the most important steps when it comes to searing foods. A hot pan will help you achieve good color on your proteins. To safely test the heat of your pan, flick a few drops of water into the pan. If the water beads together, your pan is ready to go. If the water steams and dissipates, it's too hot.
Use Cornstarch or Flour to Prevent Sticking
"Anything with skin can be tricky as it's prone to sticking, especially if you don't get it super dry first," Dolge says. To remedy this problem, Dolge recommends sprinkling a bit of cornstarch or flour onto the meat, as it creates a barrier between hot pan and oil and the meat.
Related: 6 of the Healthiest Flours to Use
After you get your protein in the pan, you'll need to flip it, but be patient. Achieving color on a protein takes time. If you're struggling to flip the protein because it's sticking to the pan, wait a few minutes before trying again.
After the initial sear is achieved, flip the protein often if you're continuing the cooking on the stovetop. (If you're transferring the protein to the oven, don't worry about this advice.) Flipping the protein frequently has three main purposes. First, it prevents burning on the exterior. Second, it ensures even heat distribution and, subsequently, even cooking of your protein. Finally, it encourages the juices to stay inside rather than running into the pan (because no one likes dry chicken).
Use the Browned Bits in the Pan
When you're done searing, don't wash the pan right away. Instead, take the fond, aka those browned bits in the pan, and combine them with liquids like white wine or broth to create a flavorful pan sauce to accompany your protein.