Culinary Arts

Cooking 101: Learn How to Sear Steak, Pork, Chicken, Vegetables, Lamb, and Duck

Written by MasterClass

Jun 27, 2019 • 4 min read

When you’re new to it, searing can feel like you are definitely, absolutely, certifiably doing it wrong, and ruining your dinner in the process. The cooking technique takes confidence, which should be no problem after you gently pry up that seared steak or chicken thigh or pork chop and catch the glistening, golden-brown hint of heaven underneath.

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What Is Searing?

When grilling, braising, or sautéing, the surface of the ingredient is first seared at a high temperature to create a flavor-packed, caramelized, and browned crust. (This is also referred to as “browning.”) The key with searing is patience: it’s very tempting to move meat or fish around once it hits the pan, but give it a good uninterrupted chance to fully brown before turning it to the other side—it will lift and separate from the pan when it’s fully ready.

What Is Reverse Searing?

Reverse searing is a technique sweeping the cooking world—specifically concerning steaks. First cook meat in a low oven and then finish cooking by searing meat in a hot pan, sealing in flavor and keeping a tighter control on the internal temperature. A perfect medium rare is in your sights!

What Is the Maillard Reaction?

The Maillard reaction is what happens at the chemical level of an ingredient when searing takes place. The Maillard reaction or maillbrowning is reaction that occurs when enzymes and amino acids in certain ingredients are subjected to high heat. In the kitchen, it refers to the crusty, flavorful browning and appealing aromas that often arise from grilling, searing, and roasting certain foods.

Why Is Searing Important to Cooking?

Searing is mostly about adding dimension to an ingredient, through texture and flavor complexity. A juicy steak with a charred, salty crust, or a fish without a crisp skin is just infinitely more enjoyable. Think of the best fried eggs, with lacy, golden brown edges. That’s the beauty of a sear in action.

2 Pieces of Equipment for the Perfect Sear

  1. A good pan that conducts and retains heat evenly is crucial to a good sear, like a stainless steel pan or a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Pan-searing won't work in a nonstick pan.
  2. A thin fish spatula can also be useful for quickly and cleanly separating a delicate protein from the pan without tearing the perfect crust you just spent all that time waiting for.

How to Sear 7 Different Foods

The searing process will vary based on the ingredient but the goal is to apply an intense heat for a few minutes to the outside for a brown, crispy skin before finishing it in the oven. Start by placing a large sauté pan or cocotte over high heat. Pour the oil in the cooking vessel and let it heat up until it starts to lightly smoke. Be careful not to let the oil burn. Make sure to pat dry the piece of meat or vegetables with paper towels before adding to the pan, as moisture will make it hard to properly sear meat and vegetables.

  1. How to Sear Chicken. Don’t move the chicken until skin releases and browns on the edges, about 4 minutes. Tilt the chicken to the edge of the pan, searing the sides, about 10 seconds per side.
  2. How to Sear Beef. Sear the beef, cooking 60 seconds per side. Remove beef to sheet tray and pour the juices from the pan over it.
  3. How to Sear Steak. Slowly place the steaks in the pan away from you to prevent hot oil from splashing on your hands. Sear each side for 3–4 minutes to achieve a brown crust on both sides.
  4. How to Sear Duck. Sear skin side down for 3 to 5 minutes or until most of the fat has rendered and the skin is golden brown, flipping the breast over occasionally. Do not cook breasts on high heat or the skin will shrink a tremendous amount and get chewy instead of crispy.
  5. How to Sear Pork. Add the pork and sear, turning as needed, until well-browned on all sides.
  6. How to Sear Vegetables. Sear 3 to 5 minutes in a hot pan without burning until the vegetables increase in color and start to brown.
  7. How to Sear Lamb. Add the lamb racks to the pan bone side up with the racks resting on the edge of the pans. Use the bones as a handle to turn the lamb and sear each side for 1 to 2 minutes or until browned. Watch Chef Gordon Ramsay expertly sear a rack of lamb below.

Do You Need to Oil the Pan for Searing?

Whether or not you’ll need to oil the pan before searing depends on what you’re cooking. Some ingredients, like bacon, render their own cooking liquid, while others that are low in fat, like fish or vegetables, will require a slight buffer from a fat of some kind. Make sure to avoid fats with low smoke points, like extra-virgin olive oil.

What Is the Best Way to Reduce the Amount of Smoke When Searing?

Unfortunately, getting a really good sear, especially on heavier proteins, will require a bit of smoke. The best way to manage it is by turning on the kitchen range fan if you have one. If you don’t: crack the windows and maybe disarm the smoke detectors, just for now.

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