Food Science: The Case for Oven-Finishing

published Jun 10, 2008
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Ever wondered why recipes for delicate meats like steaks and fish fillets often call for the meat to be seared on the stovetop and then finished in the oven?

And with such thin cuts of meat, whether oven-finishing really necessary?

The answer, fellow curious cooks, lies in the physics of heat transfer…

When we sear meat on the stovetop, the primary heat source is from below. There’s a direct transfer of heat from the metal of the pan to your food.

This means that the bottom of the meat cooks quickly while the top remains relatively uncooked–fine for getting a sear, but troublesome for making sure the meat cooks evenly.

If left to cook all the way through on the stovetop, the food also tends to dry out too quickly and leave you with tough, chewy meat.

The oven is a much gentler form of heat, cooking the meat evenly on all sides and allowing you to control the temperature more easily.

Since cooking happens more slowly in the oven, there’s also less risk of overcooking and burning your dinner!

Another way to think about this is in terms of function: searing on the stovetop is primarily for color and flavor, and then the actual cooking takes place in the oven.

Quick side note: Once in the oven, the meat surface in contact with the pan will still cook a bit faster since the pan conducts heat. This is why it’s good to sear one side of the meat on the stovetop and then flip it over just before putting the pan in the oven.

Any other cooking conundrums have you confuddled? Let us know!

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