Searing Basics

Searing involves browning a food–typically meat, poultry or seafood–quickly over high heat, usually to prepare it for a second, moist cooking method, such as braising or stewing. For years, cooks believed that searing sealed in juices and kept the meat from drying out, but food scientists have proven that it does just the opposite, drawing juices to the surface and releasing them into the pan or fire.

Cooking meat over high heat with a small amount of fat sets off a series of reactions between the sugars and the proteins, essentially caramelizing the surface, which results in a more complex and richer flavor. The crisp, browned surface of a seared piece of meat is also more appetizing than the dull, gray look of meat that hasn't been properly browned before moist cooking.

When getting ready to sear, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Be sure to pat the meat or seafood dry with paper towels before searing, or the moisture will hinder proper browning.
  • Use a large, heavy pan, such as a cast-iron fry pan or a Dutch oven.
  • Oil the food to be seared rather than the pan, because an oiled pan will soon start to smoke at the high temperatures needed for searing.
  • Allow space between pieces of meat or one piece of meat and the sides of the pan. Too much food crowding the pan will lower the temperature, trap moisture and create steam, preventing the meat from browning properly.
  • Turn the meat frequently to brown it evenly on all sides.
  • Make the most of the pan drippings created by searing by deglazing the pan before continuing with the recipe.