At Pastis restaurant in San Francisco, the kitchen gets pretty intense when dinner service is in full swing -- heat, noise, bustle -- and it's my job to make sure every dish goes out the door cooked to perfection and looking beautiful. It's often fast and furious: on a busy night, I cook more than 120 individual dinner orders. For many of them, I rely on a technique that I call sear-roasting, where I quickly brown one side of a piece of steak, chicken, or fish on the stove and then finish it in the oven with a brief roasting. The skillet searing gives a delicate, golden crust on the outside -- and the enveloping blast of high heat from the oven ensures that the food cooks completely and stays moist inside without developing too much of a crust.
At the restaurant, of course, we use professional-strength burners and ovens. But cooking this way works just as well in my tiny apartment kitchen, when I have a couple of friends over for a bottle of wine and the type of dinner I'm apt to make at home -- a fillet of salmon with a dollop of compound butter, a boneless chicken breast in a crushed peanut crust, or a strip steak coated with peppercorns and finished with a lusty pan sauce made with red wine and butter. Many other dishes can be prepared this way as well (see "More ideas," below).
Seared outside, perfectly cooked inside
Just as the name implies, there are two steps to this cooking method. The initial searing is where you get good color and flavor; the roasting phase gently completes the cooking without toughening the outside of the food.
Make sure you take the fish, poultry, or meat out of the refrigerator in time to bring it to room temperature so that it cooks thoroughly. It's also important that whatever you're cooking is thoroughly dry before you season it and put it into the hot pan; moisture will interfere with the browning.