The Easiest Way To Brown Stew Meat Is Roasting It In The Oven

You've pulled up your favorite beef stew recipe on your device and gathered all the necessary ingredients. You're excited at the prospect of a delicious, deeply flavored stew for dinner. Yet you sigh at the inevitable spattering that will occur when you brown the meat pieces on the stove, not looking forward to the greasy cleanup after.

Fortunately, there is a way to brown meat with minimal spatter — by letting your oven handle it. The mess is relatively contained when you brown meat in the oven, and your home isn't filled with meat-scented smoke. It also has the bonus of leaving your hands free for other stew-related tasks, such as chopping vegetables or measuring stock. It's a win-win all around.

But why do we need to brown the meat at all? Browning the meat is an important step to achieve that deep flavor characteristic of a hearty pot of stew. Without browning, the meat has little opportunity to undergo the Maillard reaction, a chemical process where amino acids (i.e., proteins) interact with sugary compounds. This interaction results in a complex rearranging of molecules that give off by-products that make your food smell and taste delicious.

How to brown meat in oven

So how do we successfully brown meat in the oven? First, place the oven rack in the middle position and preheat it to as high a temperature as it will go, turning on the oven fan if it has one. Meanwhile, season the meat as you would if you were to sear it on the stovetop — salt, pepper, and other spices going into the stew. At the very least, the meat needs to be salted well. Then, drizzle with oil and toss the meat to coat the pieces evenly.

Spread the meat pieces in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place it in the oven and let it roast for about two minutes (or more if your meat pieces are thicker), then give the pan a quick shake and roast for another two minutes. All the meat pieces should release from the pan by now; if any are still stuck, gently pry with a metal spatula and turn the meat pieces unseared side down. After an additional minute, remove the pan from the oven and add the meat pieces to the cooking pot while it is still warm.

Beef stew recipes for all occasions

Any fond (i.e., stuck meat solids) that develops on the pan can also be added to the stew. Pour a cup of wine, stock, or even water onto the pan while it is still hot, then use a metal spatula to scrape off any bits of flavor. Add all this liquid into the cooking pot along with the rest of the ingredients that will take your stew to the next level.

Now that you're prepared to add a mega boost of flavor to your next batch of stew, you can swap in the stovetop browning step in any stew recipe by browning the meat in the oven. This will work especially well for red meat stews, such as a celebratory oxtail stew or a luscious braised lamb stew. This method can also be used for white meat; try it in a pork stew for burritos or even for a chicken mushroom stew, adjusting the oven searing times as necessary so the meat doesn't burn.