Browning And Sauteing - Pressure Cooking

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What's On This Page?

The Maillard Reaction


Tools You Need For Browning


Kitchen Science

Don't Use Nonstick Pans


Browning Frozen Meats


How to Brown Meat


Can I Brown Frozen Meats?

Busy cooks often ask about cooking frozen meat, but since the results are so often tasteless and unappetizing, I want to show how quick and easy it is to thaw it first. Most single cut of meat like chicken pieces, chops or steaks only need to be partially thawed so the outer surface can be` browned. Frozen meat cannot be browned so it must be at least partially defrosted. Use a microwave or a bowl of tap water for quick thawing.

Kitchen Science

Browning, or the Maillard reaction, creates flavor and changes the color of food. Until the Maillard reaction occurs meat will have relatively little flavor. Maillard reactions generally only begin to occur above 285F (140C).

If you just toss meat into pan, a stew, use a slow-cooker, or roast in a low-temperature oven where the temperature will never get above the boiling point of water (212F or 100C), the Maillard reactions will never take place. Meat will be cooked, but tasteless, this is why recipes almost always instruct to brown the meat on all sides first to develop the flavor of meat.

The Maillard reactions occur only at the surface of the meat, because the moisture in the meat keeps the interior from getting above 212F. To get the most flavor from meat, cut it into smaller pieces to expose more surface area to be browned.

Tools You Need For Browning

A heavy stainless steel pan with a 3-ply base,is the best, or a well seasoned cast iron for even heat distribution. Conveniently, your pressure cooker can be used for browning and sauteing most meats. I prefer a pressure cooker that is stainless steel with a 3-ply base so there is no need to use a separate skillet. The exception might be a large roast which may be harder to turn the meat within a high-sided pressure cooker, in that case you may find it easier to use a skillet.

Never use a fork for flipping, it pierces the meat and lets the juices escape. Use good, sturdy, long handled SS tongs, or a metal spatula to meat. Another handy item to have on hand is a splatter screen.

Don't Use Nonstick Pans

With all the concerns over possible health problems connected to nonstick pans I'm retiring my one and only nonstick pan. If you know the secret to nonstick cooking - a well heated, heavy pan and a bit of hot fat -then you don't need non-stick anyway. Nonstick pans have another serious flaw: they don't brown or caramelized meats or other foods very well. The coating impedes heat conduction. This makes it difficult to brown foods and generally makes these pans unacceptable to cooking enthusiasts.We know all those tasty browned bits provides the savory underpinnings of sauces, stews, and gravies. This develops because the drippings from the food stick to the pan and brown; no sticking, no browning = no taste. So I advise you to "stick" with a plain metal (cast iron or stainless steel) to brown.


The Maillard Reaction

The Maillard reaction occurs when the proteins on the surface of the meat recombine with sugars in the food. In the early twentieth century, Louis Camille Maillard happened upon what came to be known as the Maillard reaction. In the 1940s and 1950s scientists discovered as many as six hundred components in the aroma of browned beef.

What Happens During Cooking


Cooking Stage


Proteins in meat start to denature.


Collagen begins to contract.


Collagen starts softening.


The meat no longer holds oxygen and turns gray.


Water in meat begins to evaporate into steam.

Heston Blumenthal is famous for his scientific approach to cooking. He'writes for The Sunday Times and The Guardian, and he has a television show.


Choosing The Right Oil Or Fat

butter and oil can be used in browning the main difference is flavor. Vegetable oil has a higher burning point than butter, Use an oil with a high smoke point like corn oil. If using oils which "spit" a lot when they are heated up to a high temperature (such as olive oil), a high-sided pan like your pressure cooker keeps the spattering to a minimum.

To reduce smoke from burning choose the cooking oil carefully, and cook with oils that can handle high heat without smoking. For example, refined avocado oil can be heated to just under 500F before smoking, while unrefined safflower oil will smoke when heated to just under 225F.

The oil is there to transfer heat; as long as the oil is hot when you add the meat, very little will be added to the final dish.


When browning meat, it is often desirable to add chopped onions - garlic to further enhance the flavor. The meat should be partially browned before they are added. If you are using aromatic herbs such as rosemary, pepper, or sage, you can add them immediately so that they can impart their flavors to the meat. The meat should be seasoned with salt only after it has first been well browned. Recipe for a Meat Browning Rub.

The meat can be dredged in flour before browning if you want to have a thicker sauce. This is especially good for stews, soups and gravy. The browned flour also increases flavors. Dredge the meat in flour and then brown it until it has turned a rich, deep brown on all sides. When you add the liquid the browned flour left behind combines with the liquid and the cooking fat in the pan to form a thicker, richer sauce.


At what point does "browning" become "caramelizing"? Both browning and"caramelizing result in a brown color and leaves behind a thick, dark goo on the bottom of your pan that some inexperienced cooks discard (oh, the horror!) without realizing all the flavor, taste and aroma they are loosing.

There are two types of browning, in the case of meat it's called the Maillard reaction which occurs when substances containing both protein and sugar are heated over 360F. Carmelization only occurs in foods that contain sugar. When you saute, or brown most foods they release natural sugars,and when sugar melts it caramelizes.




How to Brown Meat

Browning meat is just that: searing the meat to a deep rich brown color on a very high or moderately high heat. Browning seals in the flavor and juices and at the same time it makes the meat more appealing to the eye and creates a delicious aroma.

Before browning meat, be sure that it is wiped dry. Moisture, as well as a pan that isn't hot enough, will make meat stick, so use paper towels and pat the meat dry.

You are not cooking the meat when browning, you are developing flavor.

A hot pan creates that tasty, flavorful, browned, seared crust. Remember though, once your pan is preheated, it's time to quickly add the butter and/or oil. The butter or oil will actually bring down the pan temperature, so crank up the heat before adding meat for browning.


In Advance:

Photo of IngredientsPrepare all ingredients and seasonings, onion, garlic etc. needed for your recipe in the quantities required in advance. The classic French culinary term for this step is mise en place, or "put in place." This is important because you won't want to be hunting for something and measuring it when hot oil is smoking up your kitchen.


Preheating the Pan

Set the pan on a fairly low heat until it warms up to about 180 degrees F , this may take about 3 minutes. Don't preheat it on high or you will burn the fat as soon as you put it in the pan. I know what you're thinking. " If you put it on low, won't the pan keep getting hotter and hotter?" That's what I use to think but the answer is no. The pan will only get as hot as the amount of heat (btu's) you apply to it. If you preheated a pan on low, it would get to a maximum temperature and that's it. To get more heat you have to add more btu's - turn up the heat.

Adding Oil to the Pan

Once the pan is heated its time to add the fat. A good way to check that the pan is properly heated is by adding a few drops of water to the hot pan,and they should sizzle and dance across the surface. At this point you can add the oil and again heat it, which may take another minute, before adding any food. Add just a little bit of oil to coat the bottom of the pan, excess oil will be absorbed by food resulting in greasy taste. Spread oil by gently tilting pan, allowing oil to swirl over inside of pan bottom. Do consider using a splatter screen.

As the butter or oil heats it will actually bring down the pan temperature , so crank up the heat. It is important to heat the fat until it is very hot so that the meat can brown quickly without releasing its juices. Use HIGH heat for pieces less than 1/2 inch. This will caramelize food and prevent overcooking. Use MEDIUM-HIGH heat for pieces greater than 1/2 inch. Thicker pieces caramelize with lower heat because cooking time is longer.

When is it Hot Enough?

Wait until oil begins to smoke faintly before adding food. If oil hasn't begun to smoke, then pan is NOT hot enough and foods will absorb oil. When you see the bare beginnings of smoke (but not so hot as to be burning) then the pan is hot enough to add the food.

If oil is smoking too much, pan is TOO hot and foods will burn. To check if the pan is hot enough, hold whatever you'll be cooking with a pair of tongs and touch one edge to the bottom of the hot pan and the food will slide easily on the light film of oil. If it sticks, the pan needs to be hotter.

Adding the Meat

Do not overfill the pan with meat as otherwise the juices escaping from the meat will not have time to evaporate and the meat will steam rather than brown. It will remain gray in color and not develop flavor. Add the meat in small batches if needed, as the meat is browning, turn it to brown all sides dark brown. The deeper the color, the more flavor you will have in the final product as well as a richer gravy, broth or sauce. To get that nice, brown crust leave the food alone in the skillet, so no poking or nudging. Add additional oil as needed and drain the browned meats on paper toweling.


It's NOT burned!

What's with all those browned bits? Many recipes call for dissolving and scraping up all the "brown bits" that have stuck to the bottom of the pan because that's where all the flavor is. This is called deglazing the pan, and all those burned, crusty, dark brown bits on the bottom of your pan are so valuable in adding richer taste and flavor. So do not scrape them out of your pan!



Deglazing is chef talk for adding liquid to a pan in which you just sauteed, or browned some kind of meat in oil or butter. You deglaze the pan in order to unlock the color and flavor of the juices that have browned on the bottom of your pan.

See more about Deglazing








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