Quite a few recipes ask you to “brown” the meat but they often don’t say how. Even less explain why. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far.

Why “brown” meat?

If you are browning meat you are part cooking it.  The main reason for doing this is to improve the colour, flavour and texture that can’t be achieved by the next step in the recipe. A good example is a casserole or curry that’s cooked slowly in a pot on a low heat. Meat will not go brown in the pot because the overall temperate while hot enough to cook is not hot enough to brown the meat. The direct temperature typically needs to be over 150c to brown meat.

What happens if I don’t brown the meat?

If you are doing a slow cooked dish the meat will still cook but it will look lighter, more like the colour of a muddy puddle. It may be silkier to look at and eat but could be more fatty.  Some say that it may not taste as nice either but like many things in cooking land – it depends.  A couple of my friends claim to never brown meat but I’ve never eaten at their house.

Here is a big however…

Some recipes say brown the meat but they really mean fully cook it. If you see ready made sauces for mince based dishes such as Spaghetti Bolognese where the instructions say “brown until the juices run clear” that really means you must cook it before adding the sauce.

What types of meat are browned in recipes?

It can be almost any type of meat or chicken but mostly it’s where the meat is minced, diced or cut into chunks.  It’s often where the next step in the cooking process is at a low heat or done very quickly like stir fry.

How do I brown meat and what does it look like?

You can use a wok, saucepan or frying pan to brown meat but there must be enough room for all of the pieces of meat to be direct contact with the bottom of the pan without touching one another.  You need to put a tablespoonful of olive oil in the pan and use heat 6 which translates into medium/high. Leave the pan for up to 5 minutes to get really hot.

While you are waiting for the pan to heat up put the meat onto some kitchen paper to soak up any water or other liquid. If you don’t do this it will slow the cooking/browning process and you might get a lot more oil splashes.

Gently put the meat into the frying pan or it will give your hob and possibly you a splatter of hot oil. Stir the meat to get it covered in oil then spread it evenly over the base of the pan and leave for about three minutes.  Keep stirring every two to three minutes to ensure that all sides of the meat are no longer red and the meat looks brown.  The aim is get the surface of the meat to look a bit like a steak cooked nicely on a barbecue. Not well done. The whole process will most probably take less than 10 minutes. If it doesn’t you either have the heat too low or you risk over cooking it. Either way I might not be too keen to accept an invitation for dinner at your house.