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The different types of browning


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One thing that's always puzzled me about cookbooks is that they regard "brown" as one single unifying phenomena and reduce it down to a single instruction of "brown the meat and then...". But browning is a non-trivial thing to do and slight variances in technique lead to very different types of browning. Yet, I've never seen a discussion on the intricacies of browning anywhere.

Depending on whether you have fresh meat vs previously frozen, washed vs unwashed, beef vs pork vs chicken vs lamb, pre-salted vs salt just before cooking vs unsalted vs brined, unmarinaded vs non-sugar marinade vs sugar based marinade, cooked dry vs cooked in oil vs cooked in butter, high temp vs low temp, pan seared vs broiled vs grilled vs roasted. Each of these results in a distinct browning pattern.

Fresh, unwashed, just salted meat seems like the gold standard for TV cooking. It develops a brown, slightly splotchy, non crusty exterior. Pre-salting it an hour or so before cooking draws out more protein and leads to a more even exterior.

Meat which has been frozen, washed, brined or otherwise had the outside layer of protein juice washed away stays grey for much longer and eventually browns by the outside layers dehydrating and crusting over.

Meat cooked in butter develops a richly dark brown, even all over crusty surface.

Non-sugar based marinades both wash off the exterior protein layer and also add in more funky reactions. Sugar based marinades will carbonize in too high a heat and lead to patches of black areas.

Roasting meats at a low temperature for a long time leads to a leathery, brown crust which is different from roasting at a high temperature for less time which leads to a thin brown crust.

Broiling or Grilling, especially something with skin tends to lead to small circles of black with the brown.

To get optimal browning requires a consideration of all of these characteristics and how well they integrate into the recipe you're making. Until I started paying attention to all of these variables, it was a struggle to produce dishes that had good browning on them and I'm still struggling to master the art.

It would be good to have some guidance over the different types of browning and how they fit into good cooking.

PS: I am a guy.

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Great topic -- very interested to read more. I'm wondering, for example, about different degrees of "broiling." In my home broiler, the food heats up more and to a greater depth than it would in an uber-powerful salamander, which I have long coveted but will likely never own. However, I have never seen the need for a home blowtorch, which would produce an even thinner layer of browning and much less general product heating (since ambient is room temp, as opposed to a 500F oven or more with a salamander).

Edited by Chris Amirault
clarify ambient temp issue (log)

Chris Amirault

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Now this is a topic that I will first thank Shalmanese for starting. I really want to know how and when to make these judgement calls on BROWNING.

A few days ago I was making a Pork stew which called for browning the pork first. The pork was cut to about 1.5 or 2" by 3/8 inch pieces. The meat browned wonderfuly in my 15" cast iron skillet, on the first side. By the time I flipped it for the second side, the meat had released water and the second side simply steamed. How does one deal with the water added?

I think this subject needs a tutorial. Shalmanese, you started it, please do it. Chris, you bought in, keep going. Robert would help but he is the one who needs it.

What a great, perhaps difficult subject. I am suprised I can't find that it has been done before.

PS. Shalmanese, the pork was Oregon Berkshire bought at A&J, not some Costco stuff. Even they have water. Added, I don't know. I do know it varies from product and source. How does one brown? [it]



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Great topic. I have a hell of a time browning certain things, like sliced turkey breast. I usually just do it dry with high heat, which gets some nice browned areas, but not the even crusty brown that I want. I've never tried browning things in butter, mainly because butter wasn't used much in our house other than on popcorn, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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