The Lighter Side of Browning

With Gail Greco

Successful Browning Using Nonstick Pans—The Carefree Cooking Way


What is browning?

Browning is a cooking process that turns the surface of raw meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables to a dark color and crusty texture and adds a mellow, sweet flavor. Ingredients brown when the proteins in the food mix with the sugars in the food and turn brown, releasing caramelized bits of food that will form the basis for deglazing.

Following the browning process is usually the deglazing technique, whereby the tiny caramelized bits of the main ingredient (meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables) that have fallen away during the browning process are married with a complementary liquid and seasonings, resulting in a fantastic pan sauce. The easy and healthy way to produce this is in a quality pan made with Teflon™ nonstick coatings on medium heat.

Can you brown in a nonstick pan?

Yes, definitely. Browning food in a nonstick pan may even impart a richer color and flavor than some traditional browning recipes. This is because the delicious, rich liquid resulting from browning your main ingredient does not stick to the pan, which is a good thing.

When you use a nonstick pan you are getting the added benefit of a pan that will easily be cleaned of all of the caramelized liquid that would otherwise stick to the pan: the best of both in the world of browning foods!

Although some may argue that you need to use very high heat to call it browning, it's just scientific semantics. You can get all the browned ingredients you need using a nonstick pan on medium heat to make a meal look and taste good.

How can you brown food in a nonstick pan when you are not supposed to cook over high heat?

Cooking in nonstick pans at the recommended medium temperature is an asset in cooking. Lower heat cooks food slowly for the ultimate in tenderizing and drawing out flavor, avoiding the chance of scorching food.

Many home cooks today are busy and on-the-run. But when it comes to actually cooking food, cooking it more slowly results in even heating, delicate tenderizing, and outstanding, mouthwatering flavor. The browning happens just a little more slowly. But isn't that nice: to watch the food turn light-golden to rich-golden and then sable brown, not black and burnt!

Can I use any nonstick pan to brown?

The kind of nonstick pans available to you today are not your mother's nonsticks. The high-quality pans made with Teflon ™ nonstick coatings are designed to address a number of today's new and exciting cooking techniques.

You will experience better browning with a heavier nonstick pan because the heat is more evenly distributed over the surface of the pan. However, you can still get the food to brown and the sauce to look good using a lighter weight pan.

We call the technique for browning in a nonstick pan The Lighter Side of Browning.

What is The Lighter Side of Browning?

Traditional browning requires cooking food at very high heat to sear. But this can be daunting to many home cooks trying to avoid burning the food or ending up with food that is dry and tasteless. A more user-friendly, relaxed method of browning - a lighter direction - has been introduced by the Chemours independent test kitchen in response to the home cook's desire to eat "healthy" and provide nutritious family meals.

Although your meal will still have that appealing look as if it were cooked in a traditional pan, this method will not burn or scorch food. Rather, it lets food cook in its natural juices, slowly, over medium heat so that nutrients are melded into the food, not stuck on the pan to be washed away into the sink later.

The Lighter Side of Browning provides a healthier way to enrich the flavor of your meal using medium heat and a sweet-glazing method.

How does The Lighter Side of Browning work?

With The Lighter Side of Browning, the end product will have that same beautiful rich color and crust which traditional browning yields, but without using high heat.

When most meats cook, they release juices as the pan heat draws out the protein and sugars. This process is known as caramelizing (or browning the sugars). When cooking over medium heat in a nonstick pan you can augment the browning of the main ingredient simply by adding an element containing some form of sweetener, such as wine, juices, vinegars, syrups, or honey.

As you cook, little bits of browned food accumulate in the pan. Once you have these particles, you then deglaze the pan to create a tasty sauce.

No matter what pan you use, a simple pan sauce gets its flavor from deglazing the pan with a liquid. With a nonstick pan, the flavorful bits of food do not stick and can be more effectively incorporated into your deglazing liquid that forms your sauce. The main ingredient yields the basic flavor and your additions and seasonings dramatically add to the taste of the finished recipe.

What can I use to deglaze the food in my nonstick pan?

Deglazing in a nonstick pan is fun and easy with dynamic results. When you deglaze your pan, you are actually creating a glaze (especially if you use a sweet liquid), a sauce for your main ingredient. This is where the browning, or sauce-making process, really counts. You can wow your dinner guests and exert your creativity. Depending on the main ingredient you are browning, you can choose to have a number of exciting deglazing liquids. These liquids will make a sizzle when they hit the heat in your nonstick pan and proceed to gather up bits of meat or vegetable as you gently stir the contents.

There are several successful and significant deglazing liquids you can use. Choose one that complements your main ingredient.

  • Traditional
    Red or white wine, Madeira, sherry, brandy, liqueurs, stocks or broths, soy sauce, plum sauce, vegetable juice, clam juice, or water.

  • Newer deglazing methods using natural sugars
    Apple juice, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, balsamic vinegar, honey, maple syrup, barley malt, date sugar, blackstrap molasses, brown rice syrup, or evaporated cane juice (sucanat).

Why do some professional chefs say that I can't get the same effects in a nonstick pan?

Professional chefs are at the top of the cooking field and their advice is always important. But when it comes to bringing their recipes into the home kitchen, most chefs realize they have to tone down their directions. The equipment and tools are very different, including the heat source, which is tremendously powerful and fast in a professional kitchen. In fact, chefs agree that you can brown in a nonstick pan, especially if you are doing a quick pan sauce and not a professional, complex sauce that requires several reductions, homemade stocks, and demi-glaces.

Professional cooks also use a lot of butter or other fats and creams in their commercial kitchens to achieve the flavors in a sauce, something most home cooks are trying to avoid these days.