Before I talk about the “reverse sear,” I should talk about the regular sear.

Searing is the basic cooking process of applying high heat to the outside of foods to give them a golden-brown crust. Mostly we use it on tender meats, like steaks and roasts.

How does searing work?

Searing takes advantage of chemical processes known as the Maillard reactions. The process involves high heat and is similar to the caramelization of sugar, but it works on amino acids instead. Maillard reactions begin at temperatures in the high 200s, well above the boiling point of water. That’s why we dry meat before cooking: If there’s water in the pan, the temperature is below 212 degrees, the Maillard reactions can’t take place and the meat won’t brown.

When cooking meat, most cooks sear first, either in a stovetop pan or a very hot oven. After achieving the crust, the meat is placed in a lower temperature oven until the interior reaches the desired temperature.

The problem with searing is that you’ve already cooked the outside of the meat to where you want it before the inside is done. As you cook it, the crust extends farther into the meat while the center is still coming up to temperature, which results in a band of dry, gray meat that falls between the crust and the pink center.

The solution

Imagine bringing the entire piece of meat from its raw state up to the desired temperature all at once. In other words, for medium-rare, imagine the entire steak or roast at 130 degrees from end to end. Of course, it’d still look wan and damp on the outside — decidedly unappetizing. However, if you took that piece of meat and seared it quickly, you’d have a beautiful piece of meat that’s golden brown on the outside while the entire inside is exactly the doneness you like.

How to reverse sear

While any roast works with this method, steaks should be at least 1 1/2 inches thick. Regardless, preheat your oven to 275 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place an oven-safe wire rack on top of the lined pan. Place the meat on the wire rack and season it with salt and pepper or your favorite spice rub. Place the whole thing in the oven and roast it until the interior is about 15 degrees below your desired final temperature — anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes. Start checking the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer after 15 minutes.

When the center reaches your target temperature, remove the meat from the oven. If you want, you can tent it and let it rest at room temperature for up to 90 minutes.

For steaks, set a heavy bottom pan — cast iron is perfect — over the highest heat you can muster. When the pan is smoking hot, add a touch of oil and lay in the steak. It should take only 1 to 2 minutes per side to get a nice sear.

Reverse sear steak. (Kristen Mendiola/The Daily Meal; Shannon Kinsella/food styling/TNS)

GARLIC AND HERB REVERSE SEARED NEW YORK STRIP STEAK

2 boneless New York strip steaks, 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, or steak rub as needed

1 T. canola oil

4 T. butter

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a chef’s knife (optional)

12 cherry or grape tomatoes (optional)

3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

3 sprigs fresh rosemary (optional)

Thirty minutes before cooking, remove the steaks from the refrigerator. Place on a wire rack.

Season steaks with salt and pepper or steak rub and place in the center of a preheated 275 degree oven. For medium-rare, cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of steaks reads 115-120 degrees, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove steaks and tent with tin foil.

Set a heavy bottom pan — cast iron is perfect — over medium-high heat. When the pan begins to smoke, add oil to coat the bottom of the pan.

Add steaks and sear one side to golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Flip steaks and sear for another minute, or more if you like your steak well-done.

Add the butter and optional garlic, tomatoes, thyme and rosemary. When butter melts, tilt pan slightly to pool butter on one side. Baste steaks with melted butter for 1-2 minutes, until the bottom of the steak is golden brown.
Remove steaks to a cutting board and rest for 1 minute. Slice on a bias and serve immediately, garnished with steak drippings, garlic and tomatoes. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

— The Daily Meal/Tribune News Service