Too hot to grill? Reach for the pan.
We wanted to know the secrets to the perfect pan-seared steak, so we reached out to our friends at Made In Cookware to answer our questions about how to sear at home. Learn the importance of the right pan for perfectly seared meat, and an easy test to check if your pan is hot enough to griddle that steak.
What happens when you pan sear?
Pan searing is a great (and easy) way to get a nice, crisp crust on your protein. Searing not only makes your protein look good, but also uniquely improves the taste of your food. When a protein like a steak hits a hot surface, the food's chemical makeup is transformed through a process known as the Maillard reaction. The reaction produces new compounds with added flavors, aromas, and colors. That's why searing a piece of steak or a chicken breast is so much more flavorful than a water-based cooking method, like boiling.
Does the pan matter? What type of pan should I use?
Heat and a good pan are the keys to making your food taste better. A pan should transmit and hold heat, which is why you'll hear people raving about pans composed of 3, 5, and 7 layered (or ply) metal. This construction is done through a specialized process called cladding. Typically, the inner layers conduct the heat, while the exterior layers evenly retain and transfer heat to your food.
We recommend a 5 ply stainless steel frying pan. It'll heat up quickly and give you a restaurant-quality sear at home.
How do you know when your pan is hot enough?
Controlling pan heat is essential to getting a crisp and delicious sear. If your pan's too hot, you'll burn your food. If it's not hot enough, you won't activate a Maillard reaction. The best way to find your pan's sweet spot? The water droplet test. All stovetops heat a little differently, so your stove's medium heat might be my stove's low heat. Start with medium heat and wait a few moments. Add a droplet of water to the hot pan. If your pan is ready to go, the water droplet will stay intact and move around the pan like a ball of mercury. (If it's too hot, the water will disperse, and if it's too cold, the water will sit and evaporate). At this point, you can add fat (oil or butter). Once you see the oil or butter start to glisten and gently ripple across the surface of your pan, you’re ready to drop your protein into the pan.
Do you like to use fat when you sear?
Yes, use fat always! Not only does it help keep your protein from sticking to the pan, but it'll impart taste and help sear the exterior. Hot oil or butter transfers heat to the surface of food without overheating the interior.
What cuts are best for pan searing?
Anything can be seared, even fruits (grapefruit) and vegetables (Brussel sprouts). We love searing steaks or pork chops and basting them in butter. It’s so rich and flavorful, yet it’s so quick and simple to make!
Season before? During? After?
It depends on when you're cooking. If you have time (an hour before), try seasoning with a marinade. If you're in a rush (less than ten minutes), no worries! It's better to season with salt or spices RIGHT before you drop a protein into the pan. If you season and let it sit for more than a few minutes, it'll start to dehydrate the meat.