The benefits of browning beef
What you need to know
Why browning develops the flavour of beef
Why do barbecued steaks smell and taste so delicious? During cooking, beef undergoes many chemical changes, affecting its appearance, taste and texture. Browning or searing the lean outer surface of your beef produces the rich, deep meaty colours, flavours and aromas we love. This browning process is known as the Maillard reaction.
What is the Maillard reaction?
Ready for a bit of kitchen science? In 1912 a French chemist, Louis-Camille Maillard was studying amino acids – the building blocks of protein – when he discovered a chemical reaction responsible for releasing flavour compounds in browned food.
Named after Maillard, the browning reaction happens when you heat the natural sugar and amino acids present in the meat. As these compounds increase in temperature, the beef slowly turns brown and produces a range of flavoured molecules responsible for the inviting colour, flavour and aroma of well-browned meat.
Why there’s no Maillard reaction when boiling meat
Ever wondered why a roast is tastier than plain boiled meat? The Maillard reaction starts at the meat's surface when heated via a dry source at temperatures above 154°C. Meat cooked via a wet method can't reach this temperature as the boiling point of water is 100°C.
Five easy steps to browning beef
- Use a heavy-based grill or pan for even heating and maximum heat retention.
- Preheat the barbecue or pan before you begin to brown. The beef needs to sear without burning as soon as it hits the pan. It may take 1–2 minutes of preheating over a moderately high heat to achieve the best temperature.
- Ensure beef is dry – wet meat won't brown. Moisture makes the beef stick to the pan or grill, particularly if the pan or grill is not sufficiently hot. If taking meat from a marinade, blot excess liquid with a paper towel before browning.
- Brush beef with oil rather than add oil to the pan. This allows the beef to brown well and achieves great colour and flavour without sticking to the grill or pan.
- Don't overcrowd the pan or grill plate or use one that’s too big. Overcrowding reduces the heat, causing the beef to stew in its own juices. And if the pan is too big, the juices will burn in the areas where the meat doesn’t cover them.
Top tips for browning meat for casseroles or braised dishes
The foundation of any full-flavoured casserole or braised beef dish is beautifully browned meat.
- Dice beef into 2 cm cubes – no smaller, as beef shrinks as it cooks.
- Coat beef with oil instead of adding oil to the dish.
- Brown beef in small batches to avoid stewing.
- Keep the pan on medium-high heat to help brown the meat evenly without burning the pan.
How to brown mince like a pro
- Preheat pan or wok to hot.
- Cook mince in batches of about 250 g each.
- Remove batches of mince from pan and set aside once browned.
- Reheat the pan to hot between browning batches.
- Crumble the mince into the pan or wok, moving it from the outside of the pan to the centre where it will be hottest.
- Let the mince brown lightly before using a wooden spoon to break up the larger pieces and flip them over.
- Using a moderately high heat will help any water evaporate. Keep a check on it, as it will begin to cook quickly at this stage.
- Keep moving the mince so it browns evenly but doesn’t dry out.
- Add seasonings (herbs and spices), tomato or stir-fry sauces as per your recipe.
- Only return mince to pan to cook or simmer when specified in the recipe.
- If the beef begins to stew and water gathers in the bottom of the pan, tilt the pan and strain away the liquid as quickly as possible.