On Browning Meat

When making a stew or other braised dish such as osso bucco it is important to brown the meat first. That’s a basic step that almost everyone knows, and even if you don’t know it, the recipe always says to do so. That said, it isn’t always understood why it is important to brown the meat. In fact, it is often incorrectly stated as being to “lock in the juices” or “seal in the flavour.”

That’s not why you brown the meat.

Browning the meat does not lock in the juices or seal in anything. You’re browning it for pete’s sake, not shellacking it! The crust you form is not even remotely “juice proof.”

The reason why you brown the meat is to build flavour and to create a fond. Browned meat, when browned correctly, is lightly caramelized (or, to be precise, it undergoes a Maillard reaction), which means the sugars in the meat are transformed into very flavourful yummyness. This yummyness not only affects the individual morsel of meat, it flavours the entire dish.

You’ll notice that after browning the meat there will be some dark bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. This is the fond, which is French for “OMG this is what gives my stew a deep and meaty flavour!” You release the fond by “deglazing” with wine or some other liquid such as stock or even water, and it then becomes part of the braising liquid.

The main implication of this lesson in browning meat is that you no longer have to worry about obsessively getting all six sides of your cubes of meat evenly browned. Yes, some people are obsessive about that, turning the cubes over and over, afraid that an insufficiently browned edge will cause the juices to leak out or the flavour to not be “sealed in.” Good news: it’s not an issue. You don’t have to worry about it.

Here are a few browning tips:

  • The meat should be dry. It doesn’t have to be bone dry, but it shouldn’t be dripping with water or thawing juices. Pat dry with a paper towel if necessary.
  • Don’t use a non-stick pan. You get much better browning from stainless steel, cast iron, or enamel.
  • Don’t over-heat the pan. The meat should make a brisk sizzle when you add it to the pan, but it shouldn’t sound like a supersonic jet flying over. If the pan is too hot, the fond will burn, giving your stew a bitter flavour.
  • Don’t crowd the pan. Brown in batches if you have a lot of meat. You want each piece of meat to have some elbow room in the pan, which helps moisture escape. If the pan is too crowded, the moisture will accumulate in the pan and you’ll end up steaming or boiling the meat, neither of which will brown it or create a fond.
  • Don’t move it around too much. You’re browning, not stir-frying. Let each piece sit still for a minute or so before you turn it over.
  • Remember, you’re browning, not graying. If your heat is too low, or if the meat is too wet, or if you over-crowd the pan, then your meat will lose its pinkness but it’s not really browning. It’s going gray, not brown.
  • If the meat sticks, take the pan off the heat for a few seconds and the stuck pieces will let go. (This tip applies any time food sticks to a pan, not just when browning.)
  • If you are using floured meat, make sure you shake off the excess flour and don’t turn the heat too high. Otherwise you’ll end up with a pile of foul tasting carbonized flour at the bottom of the pan.
  • Slow cooker recipes usually don’t call for browning the meat, but that’s because they don’t want to disillusion you of how convenient the slow cooker is. If you have a few minutes, try browning the meat in a pan first, and deglaze the fond and add the liquid to your slow cooker. It should make that recipe you like that much better. (But I understand why it might not be something you want to do at 7:00 AM while rushing to get ready for work.)
  • And finally, don’t worry about getting every side of your meat cubes perfectly browned! If two or three sides have a good browning, that’s enough.

Enjoy your stew!

Blork’s Own Huevos Rancheros

I love huevos rancheros, but I hate lining up with hipsters to overpay for underperformed ones at the various brunch spots in Montreal. So I applied my usual solution: I made it myself.

Before we move on, I should state that there is no one single definition of huevos rancheros (or more specifically, if there is it has been lost to time, evolution, and Americanization). Every restaurant seems to have its own variation, and sometimes the variations are almost beyond recognition. My inclination is that if your variation is too far off the mark, you should call it something else, as is done with huevos motuleños or huevos divorciados. But if it’s essentially just eggs on tortillas with a tomato-chili sauce and some fixings, then you’ve got huevos rancheros.

Note that traditionally, the eggs are either fried, or poached right in the tomato-chili sauce. But I like mine poached separately, so that’s how my recipe works.

First a photo, and then the recipe:

Blork's Own Huevos Rancheros

Food porn version here (Flickr members only)

Blork’s Own Huevos Rancheros

(Serves 2)


  • 4 eggs
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • 3 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 red or green sweet pepper, diced
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced (add more if you have a very high tolerance for heat, but be careful because you don’t want to overwhelm the eggs)
  • 1/2 cup of beef or chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 cup grated Monterrey jack or similar cheese
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

To serve:

  • Guacamole
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa (fresh made, or from a jar)
  • A bit of chopped fresh cilantro


(1) Make the Tomato-chili Sauce

In a saucepan, sauté the onion and sweet peppers in the olive oil for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so.

Add the cumin and stir until fragrant (20-30 seconds).

Add the tomatoes and chipotle pepper, and stir-cook for 1 or 2 minutes.

Add the stock/water and tomato paste, lower the heat and cook for 5 or 10 minutes until thick and fragrant. Season with salt & pepper. Add a bit of water if it gets too thick. (It should be the consistency of  a chunky/saucy ketchup.)

(2) Cook the Eggs and Tortillas

Poach the eggs in a large sauce pan with 2-inches of almost-boiling water (with a tsp of white vinegar added). It should take about 3 minutes (longer if  you like them less runny).

While the eggs are poaching, warm up the tortillas in a large non-stick pan, moving them around so they don’t dry out and each one has a turn at the bottom of the stack.

(3) Assemble

Put two tortillas (overlapping) on each plate.

Put a generous couple of spoonfuls of the tomato-chili sauce on top of each pair of tortillas.

Divide the cheese and sprinkle over the warm sauce.

Place two poached eggs on top of each pair of sauced tortillas.

Place a big blob of salsa between the two eggs on each plate.

Add a blob of guacamole and sour cream on the side.

Sprinkle with a bit of chopped fresh cilantro.


Random Pizza Photo

Apropos of nothing in particular–aside from me being a wee bit hungover from last night’s YULBlog 10th anniversary party (and also wondering if I can write an entire blog post that contains not a single tpyo typo)–I present to you a photograph of a pizza I made last weekend:

Sautéd spinach & garlic, porcini mushrooms, prosciutto,  and a blend of mozzarella and friulano cheeses.

Sautéed spinach & garlic, porcini mushrooms, prosciutto,
and a blend of mozzarella and friulano cheeses.

You might recognize this as a slight variation on the “New Pizza Classic, Chez Blork” from a few weeks ago, and you’d be right. (Note that I did give it a light sprinkle of asiago cheese, but after I took the photo.)

Nothing for Dinner

In an unusual turn of events, we had nothing specific planned for dinner tonight. There were a few things in the fridge, but nothing in particular, and nothing that seemed like it could have a meal built around it.

And then I thought: tapas!

In about 45 minutes I banged out the following small plates:

  • Steamed and sauteed brocolli with garlic and chiles.
  • Chorizo and sweet red peppers sauteed in olive oil.
  • Patatas bravas (roasted potato chunks with a Spanish style chili sauce).
  • Big chunks of smoked salmon (not gravlax; actual smoked salmon).
  • Olives and pickled onions.
  • Two cheeses.
  • Sliced chiabatta.
  • A nice bottle of Argentinian Malbec (OK, that wasn’t a plate).

Here’s to improvising!