Cooking basics: the perfect protein sear

People think they need to go to a super fancy restaurant to get a desirable sear on their proteins. This is so false. Searing proteins is of the simplest things you could ever do at home but people don’t think it’s possible for them. The biggest thing standing between you and a beautiful crust on your piece of fish is your fear of doing it and thinking it’s elusive and unattainable. If you know how to sear, you can have an excellent meal every day in less than ten minutes.

Keep in mind that the tips below are true for ALL proteins of all shapes and sizes. My favorite thing to sear is fish and steak, but this works for chicken with or without skin. Chicken tenders or whole chickens. Steaks or chunks of steaks. Scallops. Fish sticks or fish filets. Lamb legs. Huge pork butts. Whole beef tenderloins. ALL OF THEM. Even vegetable steaks! Let’s get busy:


1. The protein MUST be super dry. If there is any sort of shimmer on your protein, blot it down with paper towels. Try to resemble the Sahara desert or a drought of a century on your protein. The two should be interchangeable in their dryness. If there is moisture on it, all the work we’re putting into our sear is gone.


2. Use the right type of pan. Stainless steel or cast iron works for chicken, beef, and pork, while non-stick is better for generally delicate and flaky fish and seafood. Scallops are the exception to the rule, though; a stainless steel pan is beneficial.


3. Make sure your pan is hot. I’m not talking about kinda medium-high whimpy hot. This is screaming hot. Are you scared that you might burn your house down? Good. That’s where we want to be. Let the pan come to high heat for a minute or two by itself. This plants seeds of fear in some people, but we need to get over it immediately if we want to have the perfect sear.

4. Use high heat fats. The healthy high-heat fats include ghee, coconut oil, lard, tallow, bacon fat, and other animal fats. While I don’t recommend eating vegetable oils, canola, safflower, sunflower, or grapeseed will work. Those are what restaurants use. Understand that if we do not use these type of fats, the fat you use will burn (because the pan’s super hot, right?) and taste gross. Which means your expensive steak will taste gross. Value and respect the protein by using those mentioned above.


5. Use enough fat to coat the bottom of the pan. Don’t listen to recipes that specify how much fat to use in your sear. The recipe doesn’t know the size of your pan or how many proteins you’re planning on doing. The right amount of fat is enough to coat the bottom of the pan thinly. This is not deep frying. A few tablespoons should do the trick.

6. Do not crowd your pan. Many people try to rush the searing process especially if they have a lot of proteins to sear. If you crowd the pan by not leaving 1-2″ of space in between each protein, then the proteins will steam, which is the exact OPPOSITE of what we want to be doing. You’ll be left with soggy messes.


7. Leave the protein alone. Do not and I mean DO NOT touch the protein while it sears. Pretend there is a moat or serious barrier around that pan. You are not playing peekaboo with it. This also includes not poking or prodding it with scissors or knives or spatulas. Leave it alone with the same fervor that that guy said to leave Britney alone. You might freak out for the first minute or two because you think it’ll stick or nothing is happening, but the protein will release on its own once the crust develops. Trust. This takes at least five minutes per side.

8. No fear. Is there a lot of smoke coming from your pan? So much that the smoke detector might go off soon? Nice. That’s a good sign. A friend of mine asked me how to sear a steak for his girlfriend’s valentine’s dinner and then had to open the garage door of the house to let the smoke out. Romantic. Have you looked inside of a steakhouse or restaurant kitchen lately?  It’s not crystal clear in there AT ALL. It smells like smoke and there is lots of smoke and this is just a reality we will need to accept.


9. Let the protein rest. The protein must rest for at least 5-10 minutes before you cut into it. Impatience and too much hunger will lead to you cutting into the protein and letting all of the juices you just worked so hard and smashed your fears to create seep out onto your plate and not into your mouth. NO BUENO. Let it rest, and then dig in.


*Note: The above works to get a SEAR on all proteins and will generally cook fish or steak through at a thickness of 1″. If the protein is thicker than 1″, stick it in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes for every inch of thickness greater than 1″. Chicken might take longer. So will larger cuts of protein. Proceed with the cooking method after you get your sear ie braises, oven baked proteins, etc.

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