Searing - What is Your Understanding
Mrs jfood and I always wonder what the menu means when it says "seared." Mrs jfood is concened that it means quickly cooked on a hot pan but raw on the inside and jfood believes it just means it is cooked on a hot pan, and the inside temperature can be any desired.
For example seared tuna normally means very rare on the inside (yet mrs jfood has ordered seared tuna cooked medium) yet recipes for braises where you sear the beef til browned probably has the smaller pieces cooked to at least medium on the inside.
So what does "seared" mean to the Chow-world?
When I pan sear steaks I wipe them dry, heat up the skillet, season them, and toss in hot skillet. I am going for high heat, some carmelization, and leftover "bits" in the pan for a pan sauce. If the steak is thin, then it's done quickly, but if it is thick, I will put it in the oven, at a low temp, and let it finish to desired doneness. We like medium rare, closer to rare. Now, it may be true that it doesn't seal in juices, but when you let the steaks rest for a few minutes, you sure do get a lot of juices out of it, which you then use in your pan sauce!
If I am searing a roast before cooking I season it, pat some flour on it, put butter in skillet and heat it up. Then put roast in skillet and brown until the flour coating has a nice crust (hence the butter) and then put it in the baking pan to cook in the oven. I don't sear roast to seal in juice, it's just for presentation. I don't like a gray roast! And the flour makes a good gravy base.
Agreeing with all other posts, the difference can also be found in the results. I find that a stew that uses meat just tossed into the hot liquid has a texture not unlike boiled beef, which I find unappetizing. Seared meat, especially if tossed in a little flour first, has a far more pleasant feel on the tongue, and also looks a little better, to me.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to sear is to cauterize, to dry out, to burn or char animal tissue by application of a hot iron.
Cook's Companion (© 1990) says that to sear is "to brown meat quickly by subjecting it to very hight heat either in a skillet, under a broiler or in a very hot oven. The object of searing is to seal in the meat's juices." Of course, as digtv points out, this last bit is entirely wrong.
The idea of searing to seal in the juices originated in 1850 when a German chemist came up with the idea. But it was disproven as early as the 1930s. The myth continued to live on in part because the idea was so heartily endorsed by cooks and cookbook writers, Escoffier among them.
I think a while back people used to think that searing sealed in the juices or something but that's been proven wrong (Alton Brown on his mythbusters or destroyers episode) I guess searing is just cooking something over high heat so that the outside layer has caramelized to a pretty brown. There are really 2 benefits for this: it tastes a lot better and it looks really pretty (you won't have gray looking meat).
It depends on the desired outcome - for braises and stews, I sear until I get dark crunchy bits on the pan...without this magic stuff, (result of the Maillard reaction), stews and braises don't taste complete and look quite grey and dull. It doesn't matter to me if the meat is cooked through after the searing process.
To my understanding ,searing refers to the act of browning the exterior of a food item(usually meat or fish) over a high flame or in a very hot pan which results in a carmelization of the exterior with very little, if any, cooking of the interior. It can then be followed or not by further cooking of any sort.