Sear, Sauce, and Serve

Mastering High-Heat, High-Flavor Cooking


By Tony Rosenfeld

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Step one: Sear your main ingredient to perfection using one of four methods. Step two: Sauce the main ingredient with your favorite flavored sauce. Step three: Serve a spectacular meal in no time.

Following this formula, Sear, Sauce, and Serve empowers readers to become a calm and thoroughly proficient cook, running the show in their own kitchens every night of the week. Rosenfeld teaches the principles of cooking over high heat with different types of foods — beef, chicken, fish, or vegetables — and provides more than 250 sauce recipes for while you sear and after you sear. Helpful illustrations guide you through the instructions.

High-heat cooking saves you time and the easy teaching methods encourage healthy home cooking. There is even a chapter on using affordable cuts of meat to fit any budget. By mastering the techniques you are free to be creative to come up with your own recipe to fit your mood.



It's best you sit down first. I don't take you for the fainting kind (introduction readers generally aren't), but this book contains potentially explosive elements that are intended to alter the very way you live. OK, fine ... alter the way you cook, which, of course, could change the way you live ... stay with me here.
No worries, I've no interest in your daily donut dalliances or late-afternoon chocolate dealings. It's dinner that I care about and dinner where I can help. I'm particularly focused on that brief, dangerous period when you get home each night, hungry and tired and uncertain of what to make or, more simply, what to eat. Studies show . . . ok, my studies show . . . that hungry, tired people tend to make bad food decisions. That is unless these same hungry, tired people are somehow presented with a better option, an easier way. This book is that better option and its ramifications are why you're now seated.
By the end of your journey through Sear, Sauce, and Serve, you will be able to feed yourself and your loved ones better and more quickly than ever before. And you'll do this through the help of a very basic formula, a simple two-step cooking process that pairs four high-heat cooking methods with a vast array of jazzy, but immensely easy sauces. Continue reading and you will learn how to make dinner in a setting that is far more real and pressure-packed than any Iron Chef Kitchen Stadium. It's called Monday night. And that secret ingredient? It may feel like just that ... a @#$%!! secret. But you'll take a deep breath and channel this formula and soon enough you'll pick up all sorts of secret ingredients and little tricks to prepare them.
I don't know whether this book will help you sleep more soundly or influence others more profoundly, but it will help you cook better and, damn it, good-cooking, well-fed people do well in life.
Before I explain how this whole formula works and how it will change all things cooking for you, I might as well tell you how I came to it myself. The story begins back when I was a little guy. As most moms do, mine always insisted that I make my bed and fold my clothes before leaving the house. Unlike most kids, though, I took to the whole thing in a mildly OCD way. This neatness bug stuck with me, and by the time I was cooking in restaurant kitchens in my teens, I was mentally organizing and reorganizing every technique I came across. And this wasn't all bad; it helped me quickly discover that cooking well wasn't so much about memorizing recipes as it was about understanding, absorbing, and mastering the basics. "Build this foundation," I thought to myself (yes, like in one of those sitcom voice-overs when a character writes a letter), "and one day you'll be able to get all cool and creative."
Sopping Up Every Last Drop
Dan Freedberg's house was halfway between mine and my elementary school. So every morning my little brother and I would shoot down Nobscot Road, through the Connors' driveway, over a little fence, down Dan's backyard, up the back steps, and into the kitchen where we would ask Dan, breathlessly, if he wanted to join us on the walk to school.
The scene in the kitchen was almost always the same. Dan would have a plate of over-easy eggs before him and one of his parents would be nearby, part pleading, part imploring him to eat. Dan would usually eat some of the eggs, but he always left large swaths of the runny yolks behind.
Those abandoned egg yolks killed me. I loved eggs and I was always hungry and there sat those yolks, untouched and unready for the dishwasher. Cereals (and we're not talking sugar cereals either, but healthy O's and flakes) were the only things doing in my house for weekday breakfasts. Eggs were weekend food, special food. And not only did Dan get eggs every morning, but they were so plain to him that he left the best part behind. I eyed those yolks longingly, thinking if only they had been mine.
I'm not going to get all dramatic and claim that those untouched yolks were the genesis for my writing a book on sauces—some sort of emotional hole that needed to be filled through high-heat cooking. But I do believe that at a young age, we become the kind of people who either finish our plates (or are forced to do so) or not. And not only was I a finish-my-plate type, but even as a kid I was a sauce-picker-upper; the type to grab a hunk of bread and sop up whatever liquid (or yolk) remained. I think people who love to eat start that way and just keep on eating. The savory pull that draws us to sauces in the first place keeps us there 'til they're all gone.
I never went to cooking school so I had to build this foundation on my own. And because I'd somehow managed to work my way into Boston's fanciest kitchens by my early twenties, I had to teach myself quickly so I wouldn't be exposed by all the slick CIA (the Culinary Institute of America, not the agency) grads darting past me. So I began a manic game of catch-up, spending many late nights in my dingy bachelor's apartment turning vegetables or practicing hollandaise sauce or butchering skate wing: in essence, sorting out (and re-sorting) most everything there was to learn about cooking.
I wasn't dating much back then. To be honest, I wasn't dating at all. Worse, I always smelled like food, and not chocolate cake or blueberry pie, mind you, but onions and garlic and shallots (yeah, oh my). After a couple of years of this self-inflicted kitchen crash course, I finally caught up. And, along the way, I fine-tuned my slightly obsessive approach to cooking. I would take the core techniques and deconstruct them to their base parts ("The first step to sauté scallops is to pat them completely dry to avoid sticking and encourage caramelization. Next, heat up the pan until it's ripping hot . . .") and then build them back up in my mind, kind of like those car enthusiasts who take apart an engine only to reassemble it. From this approach, I learned not only how to sauté scallops but also what this technique had in common with grilling shrimp or broiling chicken breasts. Clearly, I wasn't building a fuel cell or mapping DNA strains, but the experience was revelatory, and because I mostly taught myself I got good at teaching others.
The second piece to my sear-and-sauce story took place a handful of years later when I started cooking at home more regularly. I was still working in restaurants then, but I had a cushy gig where I could get home at a reasonable hour and sleep when the rest of the world sleeps, and do the happy things that most hardworking cooks can't like go to a movie or watch the sun set or make dinner for the family. And as I cooked more at home, a couple of things started to happen. First, I began to really understand home cooking. Don't get me wrong—it's not like restaurant kitchens are on Mars, but they're different. At home you have to be more gentle and thoughtful. You can't sling food around like it's an arena football game. There's no time for two-hour reductions, no need for architectural presentations, and no money for caviar. The nightly goal is more basic: get something good to the table and fast. For this reason, most restaurant- and chef-driven cookbooks (even those under the guise of "Famous Chef X Cooks at Home") are as useful for the home cook as an eighteen-wheeler's manual is for the owner of a compact car.
Also, after a year or two of home cooking, I noticed that all my meals tended to follow a simple pattern. They were quick and relatively simple, relied on high heat for intense browning, and called on big, complementary flavors to pull it all together. I would take some sort of meat or fish or vegetable, season it generously (often with just salt and pepper), give it a quick sear, and then finish it with a simple but jazzy sauce. And I would usually accompany the main-course sear with something starchy or green or both. And it worked, so much so that I started thinking that this method was something worth sharing, worth writing about.
Of course, I'm not going to pretend like I invented this sear and sauce method. It's been around for as long as there's been fire and salt. But I've organized it in a way that only a slightly neurotic cook could: taking the four essential high-heat techniques (broiling, grilling, sautéing, and stir-frying) and connecting them in such a way that after a couple of times grilling steaks or sautéing salmon, you will absorb what one technique shares with another and understand the basics of high-heat cooking. And it's this knowledge that will transform you from a recipe follower into a confident cook.
This is Sear, Sauce, and Serve's real goal: to empower you to become a calm and thoroughly proficient cook, running the show in your kitchen on a Wednesday night, free to create whatever you're in the mood for and not dependent on cookbook recipes like some sort of tethered weeknight weakling. This method-centric tack intentionally veers far astray from traditional cookbooks' recipe-centric approach. Sure, other cookbooks may teach you good dishes, but you will always have to rush back to the book to make sure you're doing things "right." I'm more like that cookbook mom or dad who loves you, but wants you out of the house, out on your own, spreading your culinary wings. It's best for you, but it will also let me go to Boca and take a break.
So, what is a Sear, Sauce, and Serve recipe? Sure, you could broil a steak, slather it with ketchup, and call it "seared and sauced." Likewise, a filet mignon with truffle butter and a scoop of osetra caviar, by definition, would also fit the method's profile. This book celebrates dishes that happily fall somewhere in between: meals that are dressy enough to feel special, but quick enough to fit into the weeknight routine. Things like grilled pork tenderloin brushed with the Rosemary-Balsamic Glaze (page 88), sautéed chicken breasts (page 31) topped with the Jalapeño-Parmesan Cream (page 201), or Spicy Stir-Fried Sesame Beef (page 60). These dishes may sound good and slightly fancy, but they're within reach with twenty to thirty minutes of work. And because there are so many combinations in this book, you won't ever get bored. Even if you just want to sauté or grill chicken breasts from here on out, you'll have hundreds of sauce options to keep things fresh and lively.
Now that I've got you all pumped up to become a powerful home cook, it's time to stand up, light up that flame (or broiler), and start searing. Remember, you'll only need my help for a bit. Soon enough, this weeknight approach will be all your own. Think fondly of me then.


Throughout this book, I list prep and cook times for each sause (when there's actually cooking involved) as a guide to help you choose what to make for dinner tonight (some nights, that 5-minute, no-cook dipping sauce is a lot more attractive than the 15-minute sauté sauce). Prep time is relatively subjective—everybody dices a tomato or minces garlic at a different speed. This book is built on a fast-lane approach to cooking, though, so my estimates lean toward the aggressive. They demand a reasonable but focused effort on your part—put down the Blackberry and mute Judge Judy.


This isn't one of those metaphysical topics that you're supposed to ponder for days. It's a basic question with a two-part answer: what you can sear and how you can sear it. The ingredients can vary. Once upon a time, searing was the exclusive domain of meat—steaks, chops, and the like. However, dry, high-heat cooking can also be applied to fish, poultry, and vegetables, too. Searing generally involves something hot—a pan or skillet or grill grates—coming in direct contact with the ingredient. A bond is created between the heating element and the meat or vegetables that brands the latter with a browned crust that is as dramatic in its intensity of flavor as it in its accompanying sights, sounds, and smells. Consider the sizzle of a steak hitting the grill grates, the splash of chicken being dropped into a wok, or the aroma of onions browning in a pan. These dramatic sensory characteristics are not only what we think of when we think of cooking but also, like a high-heat Pavlovian bell, the things that make us hungry, that pull us to the dinner table or into that greasy burger joint or over to the neighbor's barbecue.
In this book, meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and vegetables are all subjects for searing. And the four high-heat techniques I classify as "searing"—grilling, broiling, sautéing, and stir-frying—consist of the sear and little more. They all start with a blast of high heat and then end shortly thereafter. Compare that to braises or stews that begin with a sear, but then follow with lengthy, slow cooking. Paring searing down to these four quick, high-heat methods not only creates a uniform formula for fast weeknight cooking but also highlights those universal rules that run throughout these techniques. And by learning to build on these high-heat culinary tenets, you'll become a damn good home cook.


There are two ways to define a sauce: the first is by its physical consititution or appearance—a liquid mixture that can be loose or thick or hot or cold but always . . . well, saucy. Like pornography, it's one of those things where you know it when you see it. The second is by what it does—acting as an integral supporting player in flavoring and adorning the metaphorical meat of a meal.
My definition of a sauce focuses more on the latter, on what a sauce does rather than how it looks. In this book, I include all kinds of things that don't have a traditional sauce appearance—like pestos, chutneys, or salsas—but certainly do what a sauce does. I admit, drawing that line where a sauce ends and something altogether different begins is tricky. That's why I propose a new definition for sauces: the ONE-BITE PRINCIPLE. To me a sauce is something meant to be eaten in the same bite with whatever it accompanies—in this book, it's seared food. Sauces are things that can be not only drizzled or spooned, but also spread, shmeared, dipped, dabbed, or dunked, all with the singular and noble goal of making each bite of what they accompany that much better.
So although some of the mixtures in this book might lack traditional sauce status, that's just the point. They're meant to be daring and different so that, yes, dinner can be a pork chop with that plain marinara sauce (page 135), or it can also be a spice-crusted steak with a Mango and Grilled Pepper Chutney (page 223). Options are good. Loosen up and prepare to think differently about sauces.



As you've probably already figured out, there are three basic steps to our high-heat formula—sear, sauce, and serve. Follow all three and you'll produce a dressy main-course dish in thirty minutes or less; that is our basic objective.
How you follow these sear and sauce recipes is a little different than most, though. Unlike most cookbooks where recipes start and finish on one page, each recipe in Sear, Sauce, and Serve is broken up into two sections of the book—the searing techniques, which you will learn about in chapter 2, and the sauces, which you will select from chapters 3 and 4—so you can mix and match flavors as you wish. Think of it as the culinary version of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, which were probably your thing if, like me, your parents refused to get you Nintendo.
This is how it works:
(1) SEAR: Start by choosing a meat, fish, or vegetable. Then decide on one of the four high-heat cooking techniques in chapter 2—broiling, grilling, sautéing, or stir-frying.
(2) SAUCE: Pick out one of over 225 sauces from chapters 3 or 4 to go with the sear. (There are also some rubs and marinades in chapter 2.)
(3) SERVE: Finally, pair the seared main course with a starchy side from chapter 5, some seared vegetables, a green salad, or whatever it is you like to eat with a main course.
So you may decide you want to make sautéed chicken breasts (page 31), with a Porcini and Pea Sauce (page 148), and serve with Buttered Egg Noodles with Chives (page 233). Or you may be in the mood for salmon on the grill (page 78) with a Spicy Hoisin Glaze (page 89), some grilled zucchini (page 80) and steamed jasmine rice.
This mix-and-match approach to recipes might be a little more cumbersome than your basic cookbook, but the goal is to give you options to make all sorts of different dishes and a basic structure on which to build a weeknight repertoire. Once you create your own favorites, they'll be locked into your memory, and you can graduate from this book to successful solo weeknight cooking.


Unlike Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, I'm not a big rules guy, but I do adhere to a couple of basic ones in this book—like each sauce must have eight or fewer ingredients (not including salt, pepper, and a cooking oil) and the preparations (both searing and sauce) should take thirty minutes from start to finish. My hope is that working within these constraints will make your life easier without sacrificing any taste. I readily admit that some of the finest sauces around are intricate and involved, whether it's a thirty-ingredient Mexican mole or a painstakingly reduced French jus. But the prep times for these sauces are prohibitive and stocking all the ingredients for them is a chore, not what you're looking for on a busy weeknight.
Caveman and Carême, the Original Creators of Searing and Saucing
One can safely assume that as far back as cavemen, most weeknights (all right, every night that there was something to cook) included some form of searing: throw a stick with some meat over a fire and char until done. By Latin and Greek times, sauces had achieved prominence, too. These liquid accompaniments, literally "salted" concoctions (going back to the Latin root salsus), were meant to add both moisture and flavor to a dish. It would be almost another two thousand years before sauces would fully evolve into things which you and I would recognize. Part of the credit for the West's leap into modern sauce making goes to Antonin Carême, the early nineteenth-century French chef and one of the founders of haute cuisine. Not only was Carême instrumental in creating many of the rich, intense sauces central to classical French cuisine, but he also organized them into four basic categories, the mother sauces. And while Carême and the French were perfecting their version of searing and saucing, cultures around the globe were doing the same. In Mexico, the chile salsas and spiced purées of the Aztecs and Mayans were fusing with the rice-and-meat-based cuisine of the Spanish colonists. Sauces and high-heat cooking were flourishing both in the strong regional stir-fries of China as well as the sautés and grill-roasted fare of Italy. Thai cooks were merging the chiles of South America with their own native spices and seafood into intense curries and broths. Tomes have been written about how each of these cuisines evolved and fused and the role that sauces and high-heat cooking played in this evolution. The relevant point for us is simple, though: searing and saucing is universal, and its importance around the globe helps color this formula with a bright spectrum of flavors, textures, and spices.


PREP TIME: less than 5 minutes
COOK TIME: Usually 5 to 10 minutes; no more than 20 minutes.
The first step in the method is the high-heat sear. The twenty-five techniques in chapter 2 help you choose what to sear—chicken, meat, fish, or vegetables—and how to sear them—sauté, stir-fry, broil, or grill. These high-heat techniques cover pretty much anything that can be cooked quickly. All of them are fast, weeknight-friendly, and full of information and tips so you'll be fine whether you decide to sear shrimp or summer squash.
Why sear? Or better said, what makes searing so special? Quite simply, high-heat cooking produces tasty food that both sounds good (think of the sizzle a steak makes on the grill) and looks good (envision that perfectly browned crust on grilled chicken or sautéed scallops) in a short amount of time. Grill marks connote flavor. Similarly, it's the crisp crust on sautéed, broiled, or stir-fried meats and vegetables that marks the flavorful effects of those high-heat techniques.
The process by which seared ingredients brown is explained by the Maillard reaction, an interaction between amino acids and sugars, often facilitated by heat. The French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard was the first to chronicle this process in the early twentieth century. But you don't need me to break down the intricacies of Maillard's work (nor could I) to understand that nicely browned food tastes good.
What searing does not do is "seal in the juices." This phrase has been used so often that it sounds right. But going back as far as the 1930s, and explained most concisely by Harold McGee in his food science masterpiece, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 2004), scientists have proven that high-heat cooking does nothing of the sort. Rather loss of moisture in meat is ultimately affected by the meat's temperature—the hotter it is, the more its protein strands contract, causing juices to be squeezed out (whether or not the meat has been properly browned). This is one reason why it's important to let meat rest (see Let Steaks and Chops Rest After Searing on page 70), and cool slightly after cooking and before slicing.
But even if meat or fish does lose some moisture during searing, it acquires a crisp crust, which, along with the increased flavor, makes searing a net positive no matter your culinary or scientific slant.
TIP: Simultaneously Sear and Sauce for Speediest Results If you were to add up the maximum prep and cook times I've listed for some of the longer searing techniques and sauces, you could end up cooking for more than the promised half hour limit. The best way to avoid this is the mother of all weeknight techniques: multitasking. Make the sauce while you sear.
INGREDIENTS: 6 or less for rubs and marinades (plus salt and pepper)
PREP TIME: 5 minutes or less
Before you sear anything, you need to season it. You can grill the most expensive beef tenderloin or sauté up the most exotic of wild mushrooms, but if the seasoning is off—too much or too little—the dish will fall short. Salt is the primary seasoning, but it can be complemented by spices and herbs. Because the seared food in this book is paired with a sauce, this seasoning step doesn't have to be complicated. In most cases, salt, pepper, and a little olive oil will do the trick. Some techniques may be a little more involved, though. Stir-fried meat, chicken, and seafood get a quick marinade of soy sauce, cornstarch, and sherry. Cutlets are dusted with flour before sautéing. And grilled and broiled foods have optional rubs and marinades (see pages 14 to 19).
Pat (or rub) these mixtures onto meat, chicken, or fish right before grilling or broiling (or up to 24 hours ahead for best results). The herb mixes also go nicely with most vegetables, and in some cases you can add the spice rubs to meat or chicken before sautéing, though you'll want to make sure to sear them gently so the spices don't scorch. If you do feel so moved, do freshly grind whole spices (like cumin or coriander or even black peppercorns) for these rubs. It's a tasty and not terribly time-consuming step.
Sweet Southern Rub
Substitute one minced garlic clove for the garlic powder for a fresher, more intense flavor.
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons chile powder
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon chipotle powder or pimentón de la Vera
Mix all the ingredients well in a small bowl (the brown sugar may clump a bit) and sprinkle on just before grilling or broiling or up to 24 hours ahead.
PAIRINGS: Add to chicken (mix with a little olive oil if you're using boneless, skinless breasts to give them a little moisture), pork chops or tenderloin, shrimp or salmon. Finish these cuts with a glaze like the Chipotle Honey Glaze (page 92) or serve with the Quick Homemade BBQ Sauce (page 95).
Moroccan Spice Crust
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon espelette powder or ground cayenne
Mix all the ingredients well in a small bowl (the brown sugar may clump a bit) and sprinkle on just before grilling or broiling or up to 24 hours ahead.
PAIRINGS: Lamb chops and chicken are the most natural pairings for this fragrant rub, though you can add a light sprinkling to grilled vegetables like eggplant or zucchini. Pair with a complementary sauce from the region like Toasted Chermoula Sauce (page 215) or Lemony Tahini Sauce (page 174).
Tex-Mex Spice Rub
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons chile powder
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder (if unavailable, just use more chile powder)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


On Sale
May 3, 2011
Page Count
224 pages
Running Press

Tony Rosenfeld

About the Author

Tony Rosenfeld is a contributing editor at Fine Cooking and his articles and recipes also appear in the Washington Post, New York Times, Bon Appét, Boston Globe, and Cooking Light. Rosenfeld is chef and co-founder of b.good, a Boston area burger chain and founder of He lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

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