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The Perfect Sear

November 17, 2011

Chicken breasts stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and onions

I have come to discover what I think is the golden combination of fat/oils to create the perfect sear:

Safflower Oil + Olive Oil + Butter

When it comes to sauteing and pan-frying, the key to a golden crust is heat. However, you also need an oil that can withstand high heat without smoking and burning. I don’t like to use Canola oil, because I think it smells like fish when heated. But Safflower oil is odorless, flavorless and has an even higher smoking point than Canola (that smokes at 540 degrees). As the name ensues, smoking point is the temperature at which cooking fat or oil begins to break down and produce a bluish smoke. At this point, both the flavor and nutritional value of the oil has been compromised. You want to avoid this 1) so you don’t set off your fire alarm, 2) so your kitchen doesn’t smell for days and 3) because such smoke is harmful to your health to breath in and the nutritional value of the oil has been compromised (which you don’t want to eat).

The smoke point for an oil varies depending on its origin and state of refinement. The rule of thumb is: the more refined the oil, the higher its smoking point.

Safflower Oil – Allows you to cook food in a hot pan without smoking or burning (smoking point = 510 degrees). It is odorless and flavorless.

Olive Oil – Allows you to cook food over medium-high heat without smoking or burning (smoking point range = between 280-450 degrees). Adds great flavor to your food.

Butter – Allows you to cook food over medium to low heat due to its low smoking point of 300 degrees. Butter makes food taste great and helps with browning.

Creating The Perfect Sear: Turn on the burner to heat your pan before adding fat. When oil or butter is added to a hot pan, it immediately thins and spreads out. If you were to add your oil to the pan before turning on the heat, you would inevitably add more (which also means you unnecessarily consume more). When your pan is warm, add equal parts safflower and olive oils (say 1-2 teaspoons each), then add a pat of butter for flavor and to aid in the browning process. When you see ripples in the oil and you hear the butter begin to sizzle, add your meat. Once you place it down, don’t touch it for at least a few minutes! This allows the piece of meat (or fish, tofu or tempeh) to create a crust, sealing in its own juices.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Emma permalink
    November 17, 2011 4:59 pm

    Great tips, HFR! Thanks!!

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