One of the things that makes ordering a steak or a pork chop at a steakhouse so enticing is the restaurant’s ability to perfectly serve up that amazing, umami-packed outer crust on its meats. The good news is that you can absolutely achieve those same results at home, all you need is a little bit of food science to master it.
That tasty goodness surrounding your expertly grilled chicken, steak, pork, potatoes, Brussels sprouts…. I mean, the list goes on. Basically, anything that is browned and delicious is the result of a little thing called the Maillard reaction.
Simply put, the Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that produces a delectable, complex flavor in your food. It’s why anything golden brown and crunchy tastes amazing and why your meat dishes lack punch if you’re not achieving that crust.
There are a few factors involved in making the Maillard reaction work properly in your home cooking.
You want less of it! That’s why it’s a good idea to salt your steaks and let them air dry in the fridge for a couple of days. Not only will your meat be well seasoned, but the salt will help dry out its surface for the ideal sear.
This actually works in both directions! You can slowly simmer a stock for hours (seriously, a lot of hours) and you’ll eventually see the Maillard reaction occur. But when you’re cooking a piece of protein on your stovetop, you want to rely on a kickass stainless steel pan and,
Slowly heat your stainless steel pan over medium heat with an oil with a high smoke point (like vegetable, peanut, or safflower oil) until it’s very hot. Patience is key here, adding your meat too early won’t create that perfect crust. Luckily, with a Made In pan, you should be good to go in about two minutes. A good visual indicator of when your oil is ready is the slight shimmer you can see in its surface.
A trusty 5-ply stainless and aluminum pan will conduct heat evenly across its surface. That means you can rest assured knowing that your pan’s primed to get those amino acids and sugars moving to create a series of complex, savory flavors that will make you wonder why you even go out to eat in the first place!
Remember, join Team Flipsalot, and flip that steak as often as you’d like. Add a couple of pats of butter, some crushed garlic cloves, and fresh herbs in the last couple of minutes of cooking for an extra blast of flavor. Use a spoon to baste the melted butter over the top of the steak as you finish it off.
And remember, don’t confuse the Maillard reaction with caramelization! While they look similar and can even produce similar flavor compounds, caramelization is simply (lol) the pyrolysis of certain sugars; amino acids aren’t involved at all.
Many of the foods we love are the result of the Maillard reaction, it goes way beyond steak! If you enjoy:
- Crusty bread
- Maple syrup
- Fried onions
well, you’re enjoying the Maillard reaction, my friend! Each food has its own distinct flavor thanks to a bunch of smaller reactions and chemical compounds that we probably learned about in chemistry class at some point. The process itself is way more complicated than this quick run down, of course, but you get the gist.
Now you can create the perfect sear on your proteins every time, and be sure to enjoy a pint of nice, dark beer alongside. Nothing impresses new friends more like telling them about the chemical reactions present in both their dinner and drinks!
Written by Liz LaBrocca