Common Mistakes Home Cooks Make When Pan Roasting
Now that we having talked about How NOT to Roast your favorite foods, let’s talk about one of my favorite cooking techniques – Pan Roasting. Pan roasting is a chef’s technique that is only starting to come out of the professional kitchen and into the home kitchen.
In pan roasting, meat is first seared in a hot pan with a little oil on the stove-top and then finished in the oven at moderate heat. This two-step cooking process works wonders on thicker cuts of meat and yields a finished product that has a nice crust on the outside and is moist and juicy on the inside; all this at a time cost of well under thirty minutes.
Pan roasting is best for medium-sized cuts of meats – chops that are over 1 ½” thick. We’re talking here about pork loin, thick medallions of beef tenderloin, chicken quarters, etc..
These are cuts that would burn on the outside before being done on the inside if just trying to use the conductive heat of the stove-top, and cuts that would not form a good crust on the outside before the internal temperature is reached if just oven-roasting. Pan roasting gives you the best of both worlds—a crust, and an interior that is finished to your liking.
Like all cooking techniques, there is a right way and a wrong way to pan roast. Let’s look at some common mistakes.
Mistake #1 The Wrong Cut of Meat
While pan roasting is a great cooking technique for a wide variety of meats, it is not a one-size-fits-all cooking method. If you’ve ever tried to pan roast brisket, you probably ended up with a chewy, inedible mess.
The Fix – Using the Right Cut
Pan Roasting is a high heat dry cooking method. As such, the cuts that will work best for pan roasting are lean cuts – cuts that do not have too much connective tissue in them and that have short muscle fibers. In general, these cuts are found farthest from the “hoof and horn” of the animal.
Cuts from the center, including rib roasts, short loin and sirloin work well. Tougher cuts, such as cuts from the chuck, round, shank and brisket, benefit from an initial sear but then need long, slow cooking with wet heat (braise, stew) to break down the collagen and into gelatin.
This is why using an expensive cut of meat to make pot roast is a waste of money. It’ll just be dry and tasteless since it lacks the gelatin needed to keep it moist.
Conversely, it is also a waste of money to cook a tougher, cheaper cut using a dry heat cooking method. The end result will be meat with a beautiful sear, but that is chewy and rubbery and impossible to cut. Either way, you end up with an inedible mess.
Mistake #2 Cold Meat
Have you ever taken a piece of bologna out of the fridge and thrown it in a pan to make a grilled bologna sandwich? Have you see the way that it curls up when it hits the pan?
How about this: have you ever gone out and stood in the cold for a few minutes without a jacket? Notice how your muscles tense up?
These are two examples of what happens to cold meat– It curls up and toughens. This is what happens to cold meat when you put it in a hot pan.
This inhibits a good, even sear, can lead to a tougher finished product and cools the pan down so that the meat is more likely to steam rather than sear.
The Fix – Let it Rest
When you come in from the cold and warm up, your muscles relax. The same thing happens to meat. You need to take the meat out of the refrigerator to let it approach room temperature before putting it in the hot pan.
The muscle fibers in meat at room temperature are more relaxed and pliable. This is because water is forced out of the muscle fibers at refrigerator temperatures. And where does the water go? It hangs out between the muscle fibers, ready to drain away the second the meat hits the pan.
Letting the meat come to room temperature allows the muscle fibers to reabsorb that water, keeping it where it belongs: in the meat instead of in the pan.
Mistake #3 Using the Wrong Pan
How often have you tried to sear something on the stove only to have it burn instead? How often have you wanted to put a pan in the oven but couldn’t because of its handle?
Using a pan made of thin metal, even one with a copper bottom, does not allow for even heating on the stove, creating hot spots and increasing the likelihood of burning the food and warping the pan.
Most of these types of pans are equipped with a plastic handle that can actually melt in the oven.
The Fix – The Right Pan
Since pan roasting is a high-heat cooking method followed by a roast at medium heat, you need a pan that can
a) stand up to high heat on the stove and
b) go into the oven.
The ideal pan for this cooking method is cast iron. Cast iron heats evenly, and once it gets hot, it stays hot. And it goes without saying that a cast iron pan has a cast iron handle that can withstand oven temperatures.
Other likely candidates for this method include heavy-bottomed skillets or sauté pans with metal or heat resistant composite handles. Choose pans with an aluminum core sandwiched by stainless steel.
*Do not use a non-stick, Teflon coated pan for high heat cooking. The coating can give off toxic fumes at high heat, and if your pet bird is in the kitchen watching you cook, it will keel over and die from the fumes. Honest.