If you’ve ever wondered how your favorite restaurant always seems to sear meat or fish just right—browned on the outside, moist and juicy on the inside—you should know that sear-roasting is the secret. It’s a simple two-step technique for cooking small cuts like pork chops, beef tenderloin steaks, salmon fillets, or chicken breasts. First you sear the meat in a pan on the stovetop, which produces a rich, browned crust. Then transfer the whole pan to the oven and allow the meat to roast to an even doneness. As native as sear-roasting is to restaurant kitchens, it’s just as easy to do in a home kitchen, even on a busy weeknight.
High heat and patience pair for a perfect sear. The first stage of sear-roasting is the most challenging. Properly searing meat demands courage and patience: courage to get a pan extremely hot before adding the meat, and then patience to leave the meat alone for a couple of minutes once it’s added to the pan—no fiddling! During these first few minutes of searing, the meat forms a rich, browned crust. Flipping or moving the meat prematurely will rob it of its browned crust. The meat might also be stuck to the pan if you try to move it too soon.
A hot oven and an instant-read thermometer promise perfect doneness. After browning the meat on the stovetop, you’ll transfer the pan to a 425°F oven. The heat of the oven finishes cooking the meat evenly, ensuring that it will stay juicy. You can check doneness the old-fashioned way by poking and prodding the meat, though an instant-read thermometer can be easier and more accurate. An instantread thermometer gives accurate readings quickly, so you’ll know just the moment to pull the pan out of the oven.
Balance flavors and textures in the pan sauce. Once the meat is out of the oven, transfer it to a plate to rest for a few minutes, which allows all the juices in the meat to redistribute and also gives you enough time to whip up a pan sauce.
Sear-roasting fish demands a delicate touch. When flipping the salmon, use a fish spatula— its curvy, angled design lets it gently slide underneath the salmon and keep the fillet intact.
The base for your sauce is the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. The next layers of flavor come from vinegar or wine, which provide punch, and chicken or beef broth, which give the sauce body. By stirring with a wooden spoon, you combine these liquids with the delicious leftovers in the pan. (This process, known as deglazing, picks up the richness from the initial sear.) Cook the sauce until it has a glaze-like consistency. Then add fresh herbs, as well as butter or cream. The latter two balance the acidity of the sauce and give it a velvety texture.
Most tender cuts of meat or fish take to this sear-roasting technique. Try lamb chops or even a trimmed rack of lamb. Sturdy fish fillets like tuna, halibut, and swordfish cook beautifully with this technique. Sear a whole chicken or chicken parts before roasting them to create an extra layer of rich flavor. You can also searroast firm vegetables like cauliflower or Brussels sprouts with great results.
Choose a wide, heavy pan for sear-roasting
Select an ovenproof skillet at least 12 inches wide that will accommodate four chicken breasts, salmon fillets, pork chops, or tenderloin steaks in one batch. The heavier the pan, the more even the heat, and the less likely the meat will stick. Avoid nonstick pans for sear-roasting: They don’t hold up well to high heat, and they won’t brown the meat or fish as effectively.
Be careful handling the pan. The handle of the skillet gets very hot during the roasting stage. Take care to use heavy dishtowels or potholders when removing the skillet from the oven and also while making the pan sauce.