With the evidence for its supposed "debunking" now in tatters, The Claim (or the theory that searing meat helps to "seal in" juices) faces one last test — the taste test. The theory's opponents, the "debunkers," are invited to participate.
The Taste TestImagine you're a contestant on one of those TV chef competitions. As your final challenge, you're given a steak — a beautiful, thick piece of beef tenderloin or strip steak. Your task: Prepare that steak the best way you know how. It should be juicy, flavorful and visually appealing. And no, you're not competing against your dog this time. You're up against some seriously hard-core chefs who know a thing or two about cooking a steak. Will you:
- Quickly sear the steak at a high temperature to produce a brown, outer crust, before finishing the cooking at a lower temperature, either in the oven, or using a grill, broiler or sauté pan? Or,
- Employ some other method of cooking that you think would produce a better result? Poaching, perhaps? How about cooking it en papillote? Then again, maybe a turn in the microwave would be best.
Your instinct tells you that superior cuts of beef such as tenderloin need to be cooked quickly, using dry-heat and high temperatures, to preserve tenderness and juiciness; and that searing helps develop flavor and texture while enhancing appearance.
Meanwhile, a glance at the steak that was cooked in the oven without first searing it shows a finished product that is tough, gray, flavorless, and not especially juicy. That's because oven cooking alone takes longer than oven cooking preceded by a high-temperature sear. This longer oven time means that those vast lagoons of juices you sought to preserve by forgoing the searing have spent that extra time slowly simmering the surrounding muscle fibers. We're talking shoe leather here. Surely you're not going to serve that steak, are you?
Or to put it yet another way: Which of those two steaks would you rather eat? Are you willing to put your theory where your mouth is?
Conclusions & Wrap-UpIn the end, this may be the best way of distinguishing those who really believe in what they're arguing for, from the ones who are just being ornery. It also suggests a way to dampen the debunkers' enthusiasm for their claim that searing doesn't yield a juicier steak: If you're so sure that an unseared, oven-baked steak is so superior, then from now on, that's the only kind of steak you get to eat.
Too bad it could never be enforced. It would be fun to hear the debunkers go silent for a while.