How to Pan Sear


Imagine sitting down to an exquisite dinner. On the plate before you is a mouthwatering fillet. It is charred to perfection, yet with tender, moist meat that's full of flavor. By using a good cut of meat or fish, a drizzle of oil and a heavy pan, you can create this succulent entree through pan searing. Pan searing cooks the meat quickly, browning the outside and caramelizing the natural sugars while sealing in the juices.

Things You'll Need

  • Heavy pan
  • Spatula or tongs
  • Cooking oil with high smoke point
  • Meat, fish or vegetables
  • Seasonings (optional)

The Meat, the Pan and the Process

  • Select cuts of fish or meat that are less than 1/2 inch thick: chops, medallions, thinner cuts of steak or fish, shrimp or scallops. Cuts thicker than 1/2 inch require additional roasting or braising in the oven to ensure thorough cooking.

  • Choose a pan with a heavy bottom that retains heat, such as cast-iron or stainless steel. The pan should be large enough so that the contents don't overlap or ride up the edges, but not so large that more oil splatters than undercoats your food. Flat-bottomed pans allow even searing; grilling pans blacken only the contact ridges.

  • Drizzle the bottom of the pan with oil that has a high smoke point, such as extra light (not extra virgin) olive, safflower, sesame or corn oil. Coat the pan very, very lightly. Too much oil and you'll be frying rather than searing, and the oil will overwhelm the flavor of the meat.

  • Add the cutlets when the oil is very hot but not yet smoking. The meat should cook quickly, but not so quickly that the outside burns before the inside is cooked.

  • Flip the meat with a spatula or tongs when the crust no longer sticks to the bottom of the pan. Sear the other side the same way.

  • Serve the cutlets if the meat or fish is a thinner cut. Finish in the oven if the cut is thick. Remove and allow the meat to rest five minutes before serving for redistribution of the juices.

Tips & Warnings

  • While meat and fish may be the first things that come to mind when you think of pan searing, vegetables can also be seared; the main difference is timing. Mere seconds are enough to lightly char the exterior. Any longer and the vegetables will be burnt and ruined. Try searing eggplant, celery, tomatoes, onions or a mixture of these. The slight caramelization enhances the flavor.
  • Beware of oil splatter.
  • Pay close attention to the pan. With rapid searing, burning happens quickly.

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