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Searing is a cooking technique guaranteed to add to your meat.
Whether baking, braising, broiling, grilling, roasting, or sautéing, searing will improve your carnivorous experience by adding additional flavor and texture layers before you begin the full cooking process.
You can sear any meat, poultry, or seafood.
The sheer variety of things you can sear frees you to experiment with textures and flavors that enriches the protein of any meal.
So, why not try a lesser-used, more exotic meat like venison?
Venison (deer meat) is an alternative to red meats like beef, with a distinct flavor many describe as earthy.
Since it is often drawn from the wild, it takes on the flavors of what the deer ate in life, including chestnuts, field grasses, herbs such as sage, and seeds like acorns.
It is also a firm, less juicy, less fatty meat than beef.
Detractors may describe venison as “gamey.” That flavor is treasured by venison lovers.
It is inherent to any meat that is from nature, not the farm.
If less gamey flavor is desired, you can marinade venison in buttermilk or use a heavier seasoning milieu.
Since it is less juicy than beef but enjoys greater firmness, learning how to pan sear venison steak can be easy and delicious.
Searing: The technical nitty-gritty
Searing meat creates what is called the Maillard Reaction. This chemical reaction uses heat to alter the structure of amino acids and sugars, reducing and combining them as temperature rises.
The result is a brown-to-black color and savory flavor. Whether or searing “traps in” moisture is a matter of debate among food scientists.
The temperatures necessary to sear meat are between 280 and 330 degree Fahrenheit (or between 140 and 165 degrees Celsius).
Please note that this is the cooking temperature and not the internal temperature of the fully cooked meat.
Beyond these temperatures, the meat runs the risk of caramelization, a process which only affects the sugars and can quickly lead to burning.
In addition to altering flavor, searing improves the look and texture of your meat.
A crusty surface is noticeable.
A slightly crunchy sensation, followed by savory juiciness occurs when you first bite into the edge of the meat.
How to pan-sear venison steak: A step-by-step guide
The following steps will help you get the best possible flavor, texture, aroma, and overall venison experience.
It is important to remember that venison is one of the leanest varieties of red meat, and that will change how you prepare, season, and cook it.
You should have on hand your seasonings (especially salt and pepper), a cast iron skillet (or the equivalent), a cooking oil with a high smoke point, paper towels, and, of course, your soon-to-be-delicious venison steak.
1. First, make sure your meat is dry – and stays dry.
This is a vital part of the process, especially at the very beginning. Use a paper towel to dab gently on each exposed side of the venison steak.
By keeping the meat dry, you are keeping the surface juices (water, blood, and rendered fat) from steaming the outside of the meat.
This will inevitably leads to tough venison.
2. Pre-season with salt and pepper (optional).
Pre-seasoning helps to break down the proteins and fats and facilitates the Maillard Reaction that creates that delicious crunch and savory flavor.
The salt is mainly for breaking down meat compounds and expanding the flavor profile.
By contrast, the pepper is simply there to add another flavor layer.
While this step is optional (especially for those who struggle with high blood pressure or heart disease), at least a little salt is recommended.
The salt and pepper can be applied as a dry rub right before you place the venison in the pan.
3. Avoid using non-stick skillets.
Non-stick or Teflon skillets and pans actually cause moisture to condense and collect underneath your meat, a circumstance that will ruin any good searing.
Your best bet is either a cast-iron or stainless steal skillet. Whatever you decide to use, it should be a heavy, thick pan that distributes heat fairly evenly.
4. Make sure your cooking oil has a high smoke point.
While it sounds delicious, searing with butter is a terrible idea.
Butter burns at much lower temperatures than most cooking oils, meaning it does not transfer heat very well in the high-heat environment necessary for meat searing.
Safflower oil, peanut oil, and refined avocado oil are the gold standards for searing, since they have smoke points of 450 degree Fahrenheit or above.
While extra virgin or light olive oil can work in a pinch (with respective smoke points of 410 and 468 degrees), you should definitely avoid cooking agents such as coconut, walnut, and flax seed oils.
5. A little bit of cooking oil goes a long way.
Remember, you are not cooking the meat through when you sear. You are only altering the chemical structures on the surfaces of the meat.
That means your oil should be in a very thin layer and evenly distributed throughout the pan.
Lay the meat gently and straight down into the oil so the oil coating remains even.
6. Make sure your pan is hot enough before you put the meat in.
Preheat both the pan and your oil together.
For experienced searers, high heat is fine.
For those new to the process, it is best to start with a medium high heat.
You should add your venison just as your oil begins to smoke.
7. Don’t overfill your pan.
Overfilling leads to uneven searing.
8. Leave well enough alone, but shake the pan.
One of the biggest amateur mistakes you can make is turning your meat too early.
Leave it alone.
A good test of whether a side is done searing is a gentle shake of your pan.
If the meat separates easily from the pan when shaken, it is ready to be turned.
9. Don’t cook through.
This may seem obvious, but the temptation to get a better sear on your venison can lead you down the path of overcooking.
This isn’t exactly a “less is more” maxim.
It is more that searing has fairly exact timing, and when the meat releases from the pan, that side is done.
10. Save the drippings and deglaze.
When you take your venison out of the pan and prepare it for full cooking, you should save what remains in the pan.
This is not just used cooking oil (which, if you used a high-temperature variant, is safe to consume).
This is rendered fat and the vestiges of the Maillard Reaction.
Be sure to deglaze the pan with a liquid to pull those delicious bits off the surface.
While you can use water, a broth or wine creates an even more delicious flavor.
Vegetable or chicken broth, both of which are fairly neutral, will not overpower the venison’s flavor.
If you are using wine, it is best to cook with the same wine you would drink with the meal.
For venison, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or pinot noir are all excellent choices.
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