A technique used to create a caramelized crust on the surface of a piece of meat or fish. Searing is typically done by heating a pan over high heat and then quickly cooking the food in oil or fat, using high heat to brown the surface and create a crispy, flavorful crust. This technique can add flavor and texture to the finished dish and is often used in combination with other cooking methods, such as roasting, braising, deglazing, or grilling.

How to Sear Food

  • You will need a pan that can withstand high heat, such as a cast iron skillet (unless you’re using a grill or direct flame). Begin by heating the pan over high heat on the stove top.
  • Once the pan is hot, add enough oil or fat to coat the bottom of the pan. The oil should be hot but not smoking.
  • Place the food in the pan, making sure not to overcrowd it. You want the food to have plenty of space to brown evenly.
  • Cook the food for a few minutes on each side, or until a nice, crispy crust has formed. Be sure to use tongs or a spatula to turn the food, as a fork will puncture the surface and cause the juices to escape. If the food is sticking to the pan, leave it a bit longer: once the crust has formed, it will release and turn easily.
  • Once the food is nicely seared, you may need to finish cooking it using another method, such as roasting, braising, or grilling. You may be able to serve faster cooking foods immediately. Consider deglazing the pan to make a sauce or gravy.

The Best Fats for Searing

When searing food, it’s best to use a fat or oil with a high smoke point, such as canola oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil (be careful of allergies!) or grapeseed oil. Ghee, or clarified butter, also has a high smoke point and is a good choice. These fats can withstand high heat without smoking or burning, which will help to create a nice, crispy sear on the surface of the food.

Butter, olive oil, bacon grease, and schmaltz (chicken fat) are also commonly used for searing, but they have lower smoke points and can burn or smoke at high heat. They should be used with caution. It’s also important to use enough fat to generously coat the bottom of the pan, as this will help to prevent the food from sticking and promote even browning.

Equipment Concerns for Searing

You need a pan that can withstand high heat to sear food. Good choices include cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel pans. The most common choice is a skillet or saute pan, though you can use another type depending on the application. For example, if you’re making a pot roast a stew, you’ll begin by searing the meat, before you braise it. A dutch oven is commonly used for the braising step. You can sear in the dutch oven, use the braising liquid to deglaze the pan (keeping all of the flavor of the fond), then braise all in the same pot.

You will also need a heat source, most commonly a stovetop burner. However, it is possible to sear with direct heat or flame. In this case a grill, oven, or broiler may be used.

It is important to use an appropriate utensil for turning food when searing. The best choice is usually tongs, though a spatula may work, too. This will help to retain the juices in the food and create a more flavorful and succulent finished dish. Avoid forks. Piercing the food with a fork while searing can cause the juices to escape. This dries out the meat and prevents it from achieving a nice, crispy sear.

A splatter screen preventing hot oil from splattering out of the pan is frequently recommended. I usually find, however, that they get in the way more than help.

Commonly Seared Foods

While searing is commonly used to cook meat and seafood, it can also be used to cook a variety of other foods. For example, you can sear vegetables such as asparagus or bell peppers to add flavor and texture. Searing can also be used to cook tofu, tempeh, and other plant-based proteins. Additionally, searing can be used to create a crispy crust on grains, such as quinoa or farro, which can add texture and flavor to dishes. In general, any food that can benefit from a crispy, caramelized crust can be seared. Feel free to experiment and see what works best for your tastes and preferences.