Browning meat is one really simple way of making a meal delicious. Instead of just dumping everything into a pot at once, and boiling it together, if you spend a few minutes reducing and browning your food, you’ll end up with something much richer and satisfying. This is the same logic for why you should brown your onions, or your soffritto. You can, of course, substitute MSG, soy sauce, stock cubes, cans of broth, or Vegemite to accomplish the same thing. But, really, it’s not much extra work to make your food taste great, simply.
Instinctively we know that browned meat is more delicious. There’s not much that’s less appetizing than a soggy-looking, dull grey steak or hamburger. All it takes to move past that pathetic mouth-sorrow is the application of some high-heat, and a little time. Whether it’s meat grilled on the barbecue, or stir fried, or sauteed to go into a sauce, your eyes, nose and mouth will be able to tell the difference.
Without going into the details of the Maillard reaction, when you cook food that has protein (together with salt and sugar) in it, you produce free amino acids, and create other chemical reactions that send savory signals from your nose and tongue to your brain. These flavours are the basis for many of the classic techniques of French cooking.
Browning meat isn’t hard. It just takes meat, a little salt, maybe some oil, and a liquid to keep everything from sticking and burning.
– Meat. (Beef, goat, chicken, whatever; ground, cubed, sliced, boneless, bone-in — whatever.).
– Salt (enough to lightly dust the surface of the meat)
– Liquid (water, beer or wine, depending on the recipe)
– Oil (if the meat isn’t fatty, of if it’s cut into big chunks)
– Flour (enough to coat the meat)
Heat a thick pan over high heat, and add enough oil to coat it. The oil should be just short of smoking, and the meat should sizzle when you add it.
Work in batches. The meat should only cover the bottom of the pan, with all pieces in contact with the pan surface. Turn the meat infrequently, only enough to keep it from burning. It may exude a lot of water — let this boil off. When the meat is dark brown on all surfaces, remove it, and add more uncooked meat. Don’t be afraid to let it get quite brown. Let it come close to burned, without actually burning it (or it will be bitter).
Several times through this process, the bottom of the pan is likely to get covered in a sticky, brown substance, and lots of little crispy bits. Ambrosia. This is the flavour you’re trying to produce. When this coating threatens to turn black, deglaze the pan.
Deglazing means nothing more than adding a little bit of liquid, which will steam, and bubble, and help you scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. When the bottom of the pan is clean, continue.
Keep on this way until the meat is all done. Proceed with your recipe, happy in the knowledge that you’ve just made your food amazing.