How to Brown Stew Meat
You will find in most stew and soup recipes that you are instructed to brown your meat before adding it to the recipe. You may have heard that it sears in the juices, but really, it does not. So why brown your stew meat?
The Purpose of Browning
Well, browning adds flavor. When meat is cooked at temperatures below 285 degrees F. it cooks, but it gains very little flavor. This is because at these higher temperatures, a reaction called the Maillard reaction occurs. As the meat heats up, complex chemical reactions occur that break down large molecules into small, volatile molecules that taste better and smell good.
The Maillard effect is also why those brown bits that you deglaze from the bottom of the pan are so important. They are full of flavor. Do not throw them away. These brown bits are the magic that create delicious gravy and sauce.
How to Brown Meat Perfectly
If you are browning meat for stew, cut it up into cubes first. This will ensure even cooking. Browning the meat is a very important step, so do not skimp on it. Expect it to take at least 10 to 15 minutes or more, depending on how much meat you have to brown.
Some cooks like to pat the meat dry with a paper towel once it is cut up. This removes excess juice on the outside of the meat.
Heat the pan until it is hot. Add a little olive oil or bacon grease. Add some beef. Do not overcrowd the pan; it is much better to brown your beef in small batches so there is plenty of room between each piece. This keeps the pan from becoming filled with meat juice. If this happens, your meat will not brown, it will steam.
Turn the meat every few minutes so that each side gets time on the hot surface. Once a batch is done, remove it from the pan to a platter while you brown the next batch. Once all your meat has been browned, it is time to move to the next step.
All Those Browned Bits
Deglazing the pan lets you utilize all those little bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. What are those little bits? Flavor! You can deglaze the pan with wine, broth, or water; if you can, use wine or broth. Water brings moisture, but no flavor, to the dish.
Once you have a little bit of moisture in the pan from the wine or broth, use a wooden spoon to scrape all those little brown bits loose. They will add wonderful flavor to your stew. The liquid loosens these little bits so you can make use of them. Washing them down the drain when you clean your pan is a terrible waste of flavor.
Once you have deglazed your pan, this liquid can be added to the beef and your other ingredients to finish cooking. Stews can be cooked in crock pots, on the stove or in the oven, so there are many options open to you.
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