Kitchen Skills: Get the Maillard Reaction

Maillard (my-YAR) reaction is a culinary term for something you have no doubt been enjoying your whole life.  The dictionary defines it as, “a nonenzymatic reaction between sugars and proteins that occurs upon heating and that produces browning of some foods (as meat and bread).”  And we all know that’s where the flavor is.
When a protein is combined with sugar, a browning effect, like caramelization, occurs and flavor development happens. This is the Maillard reaction, and it’s responsible for the beautiful crust on a seared steak. There is no need to add sugar; your steak has enough natural sugar to get the reaction.
Caramelization vs. Browning - Cooking Techniques – Dartagnan.com

How to Achieve Beautiful Browning

Triggering this Maillard reaction creates an attractive golden appearance and incredible depth of flavor on meat.

This transformation can be achieved by cooking at temperatures over 250 degrees F. Since water cannot be heated above 212 degrees F (i.e., the boiling point), meat needs to be cooked in a dry environment to reach the 250 degree F mark. This means boiling and steaming are out and roasting, broiling, grilling, sautéing, and frying are in.

veal-chops-with-citrus-herb-butter-recipe

Make sure the meat is very dry; pat it dry with a paper towel before placing it in the oven or searing in a hot skillet. Also be sure not to crowd the skillet or roasting pan, which can cause too much moisture to accumulate.

Even though stewing and braising involve a long period of simmering, you don’t have to forgo the rich flavor of browned meat. Sear the pieces of meat first before adding the liquid to the pan.

After the Maillard, the Fond

After a piece of meat has been seared or roasted, the Maillard reaction often leaves behind brown bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. These bits are called “fond,” and it is literally the foundation of a delicious sauce. Don’t waste the fond by rinsing it down the sink.

jypsegen fond photo flickr.jpg
The fond, photo by jypsygen, flickr

After the meat is removed from the pan, discard any excess fat and return the pan to the heat. Add a liquid to the hot pan (this is called “deglazing”) and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen all of those brown bits. For your liquid, you can use stock, wine, juice, or even water.

What results is a lovely pan sauce. Reduce your sauce to the consistency you like and season to taste with salt and pepper. Swirl in a tablespoon of butter just before serving to add richness.

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