Traditional recipes

The Secret to Browning Meat

The Secret to Browning Meat

'Top Chef' alum Grayson Schmitz explains how to brown meats perfectly

Thinkstock/iStockphoto

These juicy, succulent, and perfectly browned short ribs were done under the talented watch of chef Grayson Schmitz.

I’ve never been very good at browning meats, and I blame it on one of my few cooking vices, which is that I love to touch. Whether it’s grilling, sautéing, or stirring, I constantly have my cooking utensil in hand and am touching the food. With browning, I flip the meat after only a few seconds of it searing in the pan, resulting in soggy, dull brown meat that is less than subpar.

Recently, during a little experiment using a pressure cooker, I had the pleasure of cooking with chef Grayson Schmitz from season nine of Bravo’s Top Chef. Not only did Schmitz comment on my fidgety browning skills, but she gave three key pieces of advice on how to brown meat perfectly. If you’re like me and just can’t seem to get it right, these three rules are words to live by. They'll change your braised short ribs (which we were making that day), stews, and pot roasts for the better, so make sure to write them down.

Canola Oil: A fat like canola oil or vegetable oil is the best to brown meats in because it has the highest burning point, making it easy to brown your meat at high temperatures without giving it a black char.

High, High Heat: I think the expression Schmitz chose to use that day was "whooping hot," and she was right. Don’t put your meat into the oil until it is at least 375 degrees.

Give It Four Minutes: Schmitz gave me a time to go by so that I wouldn’t give into my weakness of touching the meat, and it was four minutes. As soon as four minutes was up, she allowed me to at least poke under the hood and see if the meat was ready to turn.

Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce


Here’s a Way to Make Browning Stew Beef *Much* Faster

As I was working on this recent recipe for Instant Pot beef stew, I started thinking about browning. Browning the meat is one of the very first steps to making a beef stew taste so good, but it’s arguably the messiest, fussiest, and least fun part. There are hot oil spatters everywhere, and you have to pay constant attention so that things don’t scorch. But here’s a little secret about browning beef that will make the whole step faster.


The Secret to Browning Meat - Recipes

It’s Super Bowl time and most of us have one thing on the mind – a big, pot of spicy, rich and super-beefy chili. Not just any ole chili, but “the best” chili in town heaped up with steaming rice or tortilla chips and loaded with all of the requisite tasty toppings. I’ve tried my hand at many chili recipes — my Southwestern Steak Chili has been known to spur a stampeded to the kitchen and the Texas Beef Council has a drool-worthy collection, including Smokey Chipotle Chili and Texas-Style Chili.

However, to be kind to my post-holiday pocketbook and busy schedule, I was in the mood for a ground beef chili rather than busting the food budget and then breaking down a roast into bite-sized chunks (all though, so worth it if you have the means). After flipping through some cookbooks for inspiration and going off past experience, my recipe for Super-Secret Ground Beef Chili was coming together in my mind – but my only concern was the ground beef might turn out dry and the beefy taste might get lost in the explosion of spices.

But lucky for me (and you), I stumbled on a way achieve “better browning through science” in Cooks Illustrated magazine. They suggested briefly soaking meat in a solution of baking soda and water to raise the pH on the meat’s surface, making the proteins better able to attract more water and hold onto it during cooking. It was also noted that the high pH level should speed up the desirable Maillard reaction (basically, the precursor to caramelization). According to the magazine’s food experimenters, the baking soda treatment will definitely keep the meat tender and juicy when cooked. I’d heard my own dad make mention of this “secret” treatment with steaks, but it also sounded like a genius way to optimize the taste and texture of ground beef.

Ground Chuck “browned” traditionally with expelled liquids.

The magazine explained, and I nodded my head in revelation, that typically when ground beef is cooked in a skillet, so much water and liquid is expelled that the beef crumbles just end up steaming in their own juices and very little browning transpires. When cooked to the point of most water evaporating, the batch of beef will be unpleasantly overdone. However, by gently tossing a baking soda solution with the meat (about ¾ teaspoon baking soda to 2 tablespoons water for 2lbs of grind) and letting sit for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking, beef loses less liquid, browns faster and tastes better.

I tried it myself with 80/20 Chuck Ground Beef and I must say, I was impressed! The ground beef cooked “as-is” was almost immediately sitting in a pool of liquids (as you can see from the picture on the left) and when taste-tested seemed a little rubbery and bland.

Ground chuck treated with baking soda solution before browning with expelled liquids.

However, the baking soda treated beef immediately started to brown in the pot. And, while there was still a fair deal of liquid released, it was discernably less so than the previous batch (Cook’s illustrated said about 10% less liquid, I felt like maybe even a little more). The biggest difference I noted though was the taste – the baking-soda treated batch had that a deeper, richer caramelized flavor and was definitely juicier. In fact, it was so tasty I was worried I would “sample” my way through the whole pile before I made the actual chili!

So, my final recommendation on this “baking soda treatment” is definitely try it and see what you think! It does take little bit of pre-planning because you have to let the solution sit on the meat for 20 minutes, but you can have that going while you prep the other ingredients.

So, here is my Super-Secret Ground Beef Chili recipe, – every spoon is a mouthful of meaty goodness. It’s rich and spicy, without being too heavy or too “hot” for kids – I think you’ll really like it. But, feel free to use this baking soda technique with any beef chili recipe!


The Secret to Better Meatballs

There’s a reason I’m going back to this very traditional preparation (the versions in Mexican Everyday and Authentic Mexican have been very popular among my readers). Including it in the small group of go-to, committed-to-memory recipes enables me to explain the big-picture basics that led me to the exact proportions I use to make great meatballs when I walk into the kitchen. Plus, knowing these basics allows me to vary the outcome based on who I’m cooking for, what I have on hand, or what I’ve found at the farmers’ market or grocery.

RELATED: Authentic Guacamole from Rick Bayless

A basic meatball is typically a combination of ground meat, something to soften the meat’s tendency toward firmness, and something else to keep it from falling apart. In Mexico, the meat is typically ground pork, beef, or a combination of the two, though I have made this recipe very successfully with ground lamb, turkey, and chicken thigh. The typical softener in Mexico is cooked rice (fresh bread crumbs work well, too), and an egg helps hold it together. Besides salt, the typical seasoning for the meat in Mexico is chopped fresh mint (other herbs, such as oregano or parsley, are good alternatives) like many Mexican cooks, I like to add garlic, too. Another great addition is chopped fresh bacon.

Browning the meatballs in a large skillet and adding the simple ingredients of a tomato-chipotle sauce turns out one of the most crowd-pleasing dishes I know. I like to serve meatballs with rice or mashed potatoes and a salad.

  • 1 lb ground beef or pork, or a combination of the two
  • 1 egg
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • Salt
  • 2 to 3 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves (if they are available)
  • ½ cup (packed) cooked, cooled rice OR ¾ cup (packed) fresh bread crumbs, made with a soft, caky bread such as Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, olive oil, bacon drippings or freshly rendered pork lard
  • One 15-oz can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted, with juice
  • 1 to 2 canned chipotles en adobo, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 tbsp chipotle canning sauce
  • 1 scant tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican, or 2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1/3 cup water, beef broth, chicken broth, beer, or wine
  • 1 lb ground beef or pork, or a combination of the two
  • 1 egg
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 to 3 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves (if they are available)
  • ½ cup (packed) cooked, cooled rice (I like to break up the grains by spreading the rice on a cutting board and giving it a rough chop) OR ¾ cup (packed) fresh bread crumbs
  1. Using my fingers or a spoon, I mix everything together, being careful to get an even distribution without beating or compacting the mixture too much (which turns out a dense meatball). Then I form the mixture into 12 meatballs, rolling them gently between my palms without pressing too hard. (Meatballs made with rice will be a little wet at this stage, but they cook up lighter, which is why I prefer them.)
  2. Next, in a very large (12-inch) skillet (I like to work in heavy cast iron or nonstick), I heat over medium the vegetable oil, olive oil, and bacon drippings (or freshly rendered pork lard).
  3. When it’s hot, I add the meatballs in a single uncrowded layer. As they brown on one side, I turn them with tongs or a spatula, continuing until they’re evenly and richly browned all over, 6–8 minutes.
  4. While the meatballs are browning, I combine in a blender the diced tomatoes, canned chipotles en adobo, chipotle canning sauce, oregano (or chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley), and garlic cloves and pulse until coarsely pureed.
  5. When the meatballs are ready, I pour the sauce mixture evenly over the top, making sure to coat the meatballs evenly and loosen any that may be sticking a little. After covering the pan and reducing the heat to medium-low, I let the meatballs cook for about 10 minutes more, until they’re cooked through.
  6. To serve the meatballs, I remove them to four dinner plates, leaving behind as much of the sauce as possible. I raise the temperature under the skillet to medium-high and stir in 1 /3 cup water, beef broth, chicken broth, beer, or wine and let the sauce simmer for a minute or two. I season the sauce with salt (it usually takes about 1 tsp) and spoon it over the meatballs, and my albondigas are ready.

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Homemade Spaghetti Sauce from Scratch

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce from scratch is an easy, delicious, filling and economical meal. I use canned tomatoes for cost and ease, but I do like to use fresh veggies and herbs if I have them on hand ( I grow the herbs in pots on the deck in the summer). But I have also used canned mushrooms when I don't have fresh, so it’s really what you have on hand.

So, if you're looking for a yummy homemade spaghetti sauce from scratch, then give this a try! Unlike that guy, I think that delicious recipes are meant to be shared with the world.

But in a weird way, I'm kind of glad that he never told me what the secret ingredient was. Because, if he had told me I never would have been motivated to figure it out myself and create this recipe. In fact, if I saw him again, I'd simply thank him for helping to make me to become a much better cook!

If you have leftover spaghetti noodles, like I always do, this Spicy Peanut Pasta Salad is an excellent healthy, leftover recipe!

And if you are looking for additional pasta recipes, be sure to check out my Pasta Recipes Board on Pinterest!


Best Ever Super Secret Chili Recipe + Beef Browning Tip

I hope you have a big spoon at the ready, my recipe for Best-Ever Beef Chili is, well, THE BEST! With freezing temperatures and heated football bowl games going down, this big pot of spicy, rich and blissfully beefy chili is what to serve by the mug, bowl or trough.

I typically make chili by breaking down a roast into bite-sized chunks, my kitchen stampeded causing Southwestern Steak Chili is a family favorite. However, the kids love ground beef (and so does my food budget) and requested a chili made with their favorite food group — hamburger meat!

Won’t lie, I was a little worried that the ground beef would come out dry and the beefy taste might get downed out by bold chili spices. After reading an article in Cooks Illustrated on achieving “better browning through science,” I knew I had to try their technique of using a baking solution on meat to enable proteins to attract more water and hold onto it during cooking and also create a higher pH level to speed up the desirable Maillard reaction (basically, the harbinger of caramelization). My dad reported success using this method to keep steaks juicy and tender, and I hoped this easy hack would help improve the taste and texture of my chili’s ground beef.

So, how does this baking soda beef hack work? Typically, when ground beef is cooked on the stove top, so much water and liquid is expelled that the beef chunks just end up steaming in their own juices — very little actually browning happens. When cooked to the point of most water evaporating, the batch of beef will be unpleasantly overdone. However, by gently tossing a baking soda solution with the meat (about ¾ teaspoon baking soda to 2 tablespoons water for 2lbs of grind) and letting sit for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking , beef loses less liquid, browns faster and tastes better. I tried it myself with 80/20 Chuck Ground Beef and I must say, I was impressed! The ground beef cooked “as-is” was almost immediately was sitting in a pool of liquids (as you can see from the picture) and when taste-tested seemed a little rubbery and bland.

However, the baking soda treated beef immediately started to brown in the pot. And, while there was still a fair deal of liquid released, it was noticely less so than the previous batch (Cook’s illustrated said about 10% less liquid, I felt like maybe even a little more). More noticeable though, was the taste – the baking-soda treated batch had a richer, more complex caramelized flavor and was markedly juicier. In fact, the cooked beef was so yummy I worried about taste-testing my way through the whole pile before I even started the rest of the chili!

So, my final recommendation on this “baking soda treatment” is definitely try it and see what you think! It does take little bit of pre-planning because you have to let the solution sit on the meat for 20 minutes, but you can have that going while you prep the other ingredients.

So, here is my Best Ever Ground Beef Chili recipe, – every spoon is a mouthful of meaty goodness. It’s rich and spicy, without being too heavy or too “hot” for kids – I think you’ll really like it. But, feel free to use this baking soda technique with any beef chili recipe!


The Secret to Searing a Bistro-Quality Steak

AS MANY TIMES as I’ve cooked steak, I’ve only rarely achieved that state of perfection found in Paris bistros. So, on a trip to that city researching recipes for an upcoming book, I was eager to consult with Hugo Desnoyer, the eponymous proprietor of what is arguably Paris’s most highly regarded butcher shop.

“In France we have a method to make a perfect steak every time. It’s very simple,” he assured me. “As long as you use quality meat to begin with.”

Bifteck pôelé au beurre—steak pan-seared in butter, the type that usually graces a plate of steak frites—originated in restaurant kitchens but is just as easily (and in France, just as often) made by home cooks. It involves a few straightforward steps: An iron skillet heats until wisps of smoke appear. A thick steak sears until it develops a toothsome crust. After a brief sojourn in the oven, it returns to the stovetop to be finished with melted, herb-flavored butter.

“This allows the full flavor to shine. Otherwise you are not doing justice to the meat,” said Mr. Desnoyer.

Unlike many staple French techniques, this one isn’t dependent on precision—though its steps are rooted in culinary science. The high-heat searing encourages the Maillard reaction, by which a food’s amino acids and sugars caramelize to create a savory golden crust. The sizzling butter spooned over the steak undergoes the same reaction, further heightening the flavor as well as lending richness.


Chef's secret: How to use tomato paste the right way

Tomato paste is a pantry MVP: Its concentrated, almost meaty taste adds nuance and body to everything from pasta sauce to stews, casseroles and more. But home cooks tend to miss out on the flavor potential hiding out in that little can or tube.

While recipes often call for tomato paste to be added along with liquid—usually broth, water or wine—chefs have a secret to coaxing more intense flavor out of the ingredient. How? They add the paste earlier in the cooking process. By letting tomato paste "brown" in the pan, and sautéing it with spices and other aromatic ingredients like cooked onions, you can boost the flavor of your dish in a big way.

Geoffrey Zakarian, chef and co-owner of The Lambs Club in New York City, always lets his tomato paste cook for a few minutes when making his famous Bolognese sauce. "You just want to make sure it's heated through," Zakarian explains, adding that this usually takes less than five minutes. "Then, deglaze the pan with wine. This method caramelizes the sugars, making [the sauce] smoother and sweetening the flavor.”

You can even freeze leftover tomato paste in tablespoon-sized blobs the strong, acidic paste will melt quickly in a hot skillet and have the same effect.

Zakarian likes to serve his ragu Bolognese over house-made maccheroni at The Lambs Club, but you can amplify your favorite sauce—even a simple marinara—at home. Start by cooking onions and garlic in olive oil over low heat until they're soft and translucent, then add your tomato paste. Let it cook for a few minutes more you'll see it darken in color and thicken. Add wine or broth and scrape up all the tasty browned bits on the bottom of the pan, then add the rest of your ingredients (for instance canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, vegetables, meat). Simmer for up to an hour or two if you’re making a ragu like this hearty Bolognese—until the ingredients cook down into a thick, delicious sauce.


How to salt your food

The reason for salting foods is to intensify, develop, blend and balance flavors, which is why salt should be added in small quantities throughout the cooking process.

Kosher salt is the best choice for use during cooking. No doubt you’ve heard this recommendation before, but the basic reasoning behind it is always the same – it’s easy to control the quantity of kosher salt, it adheres to food well and it dissolves fairly easily.

You should keep your salt handy while cooking so you can easily add a pinch here and there. You can get yourself a special container like a salt pig or wooden salt box, or just dish some up in a small prep bowl and store it near the stove.

If you have artisanal salts on hand, reserve them for use as a finishing element so that their individual flavor profiles are not lost in the cooking process.


Gonzales Jambalaya

Gonzales, Louisiana is home to a big jambalaya festival that happens every May. (Reprinted with permission from The Times-Picayune archive.)

  • 1 whole cut-up chicken, or any parts you like (about 3 pounds)
  • Tony Chachere’s or other Creole seasoning
  • Oil for browning
  • 1 pound smoked sausage, cut in coin shapes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red and 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups long-grain rice (or 2 cups ready-made instant rice)
  • 1 capful liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne, or to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • Kitchen Bouquet for a browner color (optional)

Season chicken with Tony Chachere’s or any other seasoning, and brown in oil. Remove chicken, add the sausage and brown it. Remove sausage, then sauté the onions, celery, peppers, and garlic in the sausage grease until onions are clear. Return chicken to pot and add broth, liquid smoke and, if you want a browner color, Kitchen Bouquet.

Bring to a rolling boil and add rice. Bring to a really hard rolling boil again, stir, and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Once the rice is cooked through, adjust for taste, adding more salt, pepper, cayenne, or seasoning.


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