What does a succulent, mouthwatering, grass-fed farm-to-table USDA prime organic steak have in common with the beer you’re drinking with it? Both are delicious, yes, and each hits the spot, but where does a perfectly cooked slab of beef get a fine, flaky crust and its juicy, savory, and complex flavor? The same thing that turns raw hops into the main ingredient for a keg of refreshing lager–heat, and lots of it.
The Maillard Reaction is the chemical reaction–what we call “browning”–which occurs when the proteins in food are heated to temperatures of 310°F or higher. If you have a sweet tooth, this probably sounds a lot like caramelization, which is what happens when carbohydrates (sugars) reach roughly 320°F or above, and gives bread, candies, and desserts their buttery rich flavor.
Naturally, the foods we eat contain a mixture of proteins and carbohydrates and when we balance foods like steak, which are high in proteins but low in sugars, with dishes high in sugars and low in protein–like baked potatoes, for instance– serving a nutritious, tasty, and satisfying meal is easier than you think–even without following a recipe.
Searing a Steak Using the Maillard Reaction
The three factors in the Maillard Reaction are heat, moisture, and time. You need a source of continuous heat above 310°F, a relatively dry cut of meat, and enough time to prepare–at least 45 minutes.
Achieving a perfect Maillard Reaction on your steak doesn’t require any special hardware or skills–just a few basic kitchen tools and a little bit of time. A word of advice, though–the heat required to sear a steak can ruin the coating on your nonstick pan, so a sturdy cast-iron skillet, stainless steel pan, flattop or flame grill is your best bet for searing red meat at home.
45 minutes before cooking: Remove your steak from its packaging and sprinkle it with a hearty pinch or two of good-quality salt. Kosher salt works well for this, or you can play around with smoked salt, sea salt, or any other type of salt until you find the kind you like best. (Optional: for a stronger reaction, salt steaks and allow them to air-dry in the fridge overnight or up to a day in a process called “dry brining”). Prior to searing, give the steaks 45 minutes – 2 hours on the counter to warm up closer to room temperature, as the heat loss that occurs when a cold steak hits a hot pan can stop searing in its tracks.
5-10 minutes before cooking: Place your pan on high heat. Searing meat generates a lot of smoke, so we recommend using an exhaust fan or opening a window if you’re cooking at home. Test the pan’s heat with a small droplet of water. If a tiny drip evaporates immediately upon contact, your pan is rippin’ hot and ready to sear.
Time to sear: Pat your steaks dry and place in the pan, giving them a flip and rotating 90° every 30 seconds until they’ve reached the desired doneness. A 1” thick sirloin steak should reach medium-well doneness within 3 to 4 minutes. Allow steak to rest for a minimum of 5 minutes before serving.
Who’s hungry? Give us a call at (330) 529-4017 for freezer bundles, fresh butcher cuts, and custom beef processing.