A delicious steak is one of the tastiest comfort foods. It brings us together at barbecues, is elegant at dinner parties and romantic in dinners for two. For the tastiest piece of meat, is searing necessary? Of course! But not for the reasons that you’d think. Getting a good sear on a steak creates depth of flavor and a better looking steak, but it doesn’t form a seal to hold the juices in.
We Must, We Must, We Must Create a Crust
Searing, or applying extremely high, direct, dry heat to a steak (or other meats) renders a delicious crust, thanks to the Malliard reaction. During the searing process, the sugars in the meat caramelize, creating a brown, crunchy crust on the outside of the meat. This yields a deeper flavor profile, with more depth resulting from the difference in flavor from the outer crust and inner tender, juicy steak. So if you want flavor, sear away!
Is the Crust a Seal?
Most food buffs agree that the Malliard reaction – searing – does not actually seal in the juices. This is essentially proven each and every time you sear and then continue cooking your steak. The sizzle that you hear is moisture cooking away. However, when you sear a steak, you reduce the cooking time, resulting in juicier steak, even though it’s not an impermeable seal.
Why Foodies Really Swear by Searing
If you’ve ever seared a steak, you know that what you get is a restaurant quality, good looking steak that’s evenly brown, shiny and delicious. On the other hand, if you’ve ever started to cook a steak in a less than screaming hot pan, you know there is nothing appealing about the gray steak slapped on your plate when it’s done. Not only does searing contribute to added flavor, it just looks better than wrinkly gray meat with pools of red juice on it.
How to Really Sear for the Best Flavor
Heat a pan over high heat. Let it go for a minute or two, and check the heat level by dripping a drop of water in the pan. If it sizzles away quickly it’s ready, but if it sits or fizzles away slowly, let it preheat a little longer. Add 1 tsp or so of oil and let heat quickly before adding the meat. If the steak is marinated, blot the steak before adding it to the pan. If it’s wet, it will not sear.
When cooking, place the fattiest side down in the pan to render a little more additional fat. Then let it cook. Don’t move the meat for at least one minute and check for a nice caramel color. Turn the steak to the other side and repeat to ensure even searing on both sides. If you are using an extremely thick cut, brown the outer edges as well. Drop the heat and allow the steak to finish cooking on the second side, or finish for four minutes in a preheated, 450-degree oven. When the steak is done, sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.