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I still have trouble getting a hard enough sear. I'm paranoid I'm going to overcook things, it's all in my head, I think. Lol.
- Michael LaCharite, International Sous Vide Association
Note:The following article is an edited transcript from the video.
Searing is one of those things that some people have no problem with it and other people really struggle with it all the time.
There's a lot of things you can do to help increase your success and there's many different searing methods to choose from. It's hard to cover everything, but I'll give you some ideas to consider.
If you cook a 1/2 inch steak with sous vide and you throw it right in the pan to sear it, you're going to really struggle. The meat is so thin it's probably going to overcook no matter what you do. But you can chill it down in an ice bath before searing it, or maybe sous vide isn't the best method to cook that type of steak.
For example, you can sous vide a skirt steak for 24 hours and it will be nicely tenderized. However, at that point you want to chill it down before searing it or else you will most likely dry it out and overcook it because it's a thinner steak.
When I am searing with a heavy pan it holds in a lot more heat than when I've used a thinner pan, it doesn't work that well. I've used stainless steel, I've use nonstick (though be careful of heating it too hot), I've used cast iron and the only difference I found in them is the thicker the pan the better.
If you have a heavy stainless steel pan, it's going to work just as well as a cast iron pan all told. A cast iron one might be slightly better but either one's going to give you a good sear. If you have a thin pan, as soon as that meat hits the surface it's going to cool down the pan, which leads to longer cook time and overcooking during the sear.
In order to sear over high heat, you need to use an oil with a high smoke point. Some people start off trying to sear with olive oil but even at medium-high temperatures it quickly begins to smoke and burn in the pan.
There are some good websites out there that carry appropriate high heat oils. If you Google the smoke point of cooking oils you'll get a list of them. Some are more expensive, but some of them are not expensive at all; these will work fine so just order one of those. I have one sunflower oil that I use only for searing. Using the proper oil really helps a lot.
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If you're struggling to get a good sear. You can always throw it in an ice bath or cold water for 5 to 10 minutes to bring the temperature of the outside down a little bit before you sear it. That way the high heat from the searing won't overcook the protein as much. It'll buy you a little more time.
I personally use a torch and a cast-iron pan a lot. I'll often sear with the cast iron pan and then I'll torch the top of the steak to get into the nooks and crannies. It speeds up the process, dries the protein off a little bit and it's given me really good searing results.
Those are few different ideas that you can try. But in general, the thicker the meat is, the heavier the pan is, and hotter you can get the pan, the better the sous vide sear will be. And the higher the smoke point of the oil, the less amount of smoke that's going to be coming out during this process.
Again, these are all tips that can lead to an improvement in your searing. But remember, you don't need to master every type of searing, or use all these tips at once. These are just some options to try depending on the searing results you're currently achieving and if you want to improve them. Just because a chef or home cook swears by a particular searing technique, it does not necessarily mean that it will be the best for your particular setup.For more information you can read my comprehensive article on How to Sear Sous Vided Food or my product reviews of various Sous Vide Searing Equipment.
I wanted to share with you, just because I can sear really well at my stove, in my home, I still run into trouble every once in a while and set off smoke alarms. So if you struggle at first, it isn't an indictment of you or your cooking.
For example, we went over to our friend's house for the day. Since they recently had a baby, the women were going out for a relaxing spa day while the guys watched the babies. It was the first time that the new mom had really left the baby totally alone with the new dad. Of course, the guys decide to get together, eat steak and drink bourbon as we all watched the baby.
Since I was in charge of cooking, for such an epic event I was doing a ribeye tasting of several different grades of ribeye. I'm used to my stove, my pans, my range hood and my usual way of searing. So there I was searing them in a thinner pan, on a different type of stove that reached lower temperatures and under a hood with marginal suction. About 3 or 4 minutes into the searing process, I set off their smoke alarm. Of course, they have a fancy system which sends alerts to their phone.
After the ladies finished their special day relaxing at the spa, the mom got her phone out of the locker. She had about 10 messages reporting that their house was on fire, smoke alarms were going off and there was danger at home. A great way to wind down from a relaxing massage is to suddenly be alerted that your husband and his friends are killing your kid!
So it still happens to the best of us and it's really embarrassing when you're at someone else's house. They're like, "I thought you did this for a living". So don't feel bad about it if it happens to you at home. You'll start to learn how to sear with your own equipment and get better at it.
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