Searing chicken before baking is a great way to get beautifully browned and flavorful chicken. The high heat of searing caramelizes the exterior of the chicken, adding color and depth of flavor. But searing isn’t just about appearances – it also has some important effects on the final texture of baked chicken. Here’s what you need to know about searing chicken before roasting or baking it.
Does searing seal in juices?
One common belief about searing meats is that it “seals in” moisture and juices. However, this isn’t quite accurate. Searing doesn’t actually prevent juices from escaping during the cooking process. When exposed to high heat, the proteins on the very outer surface of the meat coagulate and brown, forming a flavorful crust. But this crust is much too thin to lock in substantial amounts of liquid. Over the rest of the cooking time, moisture will still evaporate from the chicken.
However, searing does lead to a moister finished product compared to skipping searing and simply baking the chicken. How does it work? Searing essentially drives moisture inward, while the surface dries out. This gradient from dry exterior to very moist interior leads to a juicier texture. Meat that isn’t seared will dry out much more evenly throughout.
Should you sear chicken thighs and breasts?
Both chicken thighs and breasts benefit from searing before roasting or baking. The thighs will become crispy and caramelized on the outside while remaining juicy within. Chicken breasts are prone to drying out without searing but will turn out incredibly moist and tender when seared first.
For the best results, make sure the chicken pieces are patted very dry before searing. This will help them develop a nice brown crust in the pan. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper or other spices for a flavorful exterior.
What temperature to sear chicken?
To achieve a good sear, the pan and oil need to be hot enough. Heat the pan over medium-high or high heat until the oil is shimmering or just starting to smoke. The ideal searing temperature for chicken is around 350°F to 450°F. If the pan isn’t hot enough, the chicken will steam rather than sear and won’t develop that flavorful crust.
Should you sear chicken skin side down first?
It’s best to start searing chicken pieces skin side down in the hot pan. The skin contains fat and collagen that will melt and caramelize, creating delicious browned bits called the fond. The fond contributes lots of flavor to any pan sauces. Searing skin side down also renders out excess fat.
After searing the skin side, flip the chicken over and sear the second side. For bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks, you may want to sear the sides of the bones as well for more browned surfaces.
How long to sear chicken?
Only 30 seconds to 3 minutes per side is needed to get a good sear on chicken pieces. Thinner cutlets may only need 1 minute per side, while thicker bone-in pieces can go up to 3 minutes. But be careful not to overdo it – you want a sear, not burnt chicken.
Smaller pieces like diced chicken for stir-fries need even less time, just 15-30 seconds total in the hot pan.
Can you sear chicken in the oven?
While searing typically takes place on the stovetop, you can absolutely sear chicken pieces in a hot oven. To do this, preheat your oven to around 450°F. Place a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet. Rub the chicken pieces with oil and arrange them skin side down on the rack. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the skin is crispy and browned.
Oven searing doesn’t allow you to incorporate fond into a pan sauce the way stovetop searing does. But it’s a hands-off way to get deliciously seared chicken.
What oil to use for searing chicken?
The oil you choose for searing chicken can affect the flavor and sear quality. Ideal oils include:
- Grapeseed oil: A high smoke point means you can get the pan very hot without burning the oil.
- Avocado oil: Also has a high smoke point and adds a subtle flavor.
- Ghee: Clarified butter is excellent for searing meats.
- Canola or vegetable oil: Affordable options that can withstand high heat.
- Olive oil: Good flavor but tends to smoke at high temperatures.
Avoid searing with butter or low smoke point oils – they’ll burn rather than browning the chicken nicely.
Should you baste chicken while searing?
Basting the chicken as it sears really drives home that flavorful crust. For the last minute or so of searing, add a tablespoon or two of butter, garlic butter, or oil to the pan. Tilt the pan and use a spoon to repeatedly scoop the hot fat over the top of the chicken.
You can also add fresh herbs, smashed garlic, shallots, or spices to the butter or oil to infuse even more flavor. Basting helps ensure every surface of the chicken gets nicely caramelized.
Can you sear chicken in an Instant Pot?
It is possible to sear chicken in an Instant Pot or other multicooker. Heat your Instant Pot using the saute function, wait until it reads “HOT”, then add oil. Swirl the oil to coat the pot bottom and proceed with searing the chicken in batches. Avoid overcrowding.
The challenge with Instant Pot searing is the pot’s shape doesn’t lend itself well to browning. The tapered sides and small bottom surface area limit contact. You may need to sear in very small batches.
Should you let chicken rest after searing?
There’s no need to let chicken rest after the initial searing step. Letting it rest would allow the interior to cool down, when what you want is to move it straight from the hot pan into the hot oven. Resting only comes after the full cooking process.
Can you sear chicken after baking?
While searing prior to baking is ideal, you can still develop a little color on partly cooked chicken pieces by searing after baking. Remove the baked chicken from the oven when it’s 5-10°F below your final target temperature. Heat up a skillet with oil over high heat. Quickly sear the chicken pieces for 1-2 minutes per side just until browned.
Keep in mind that searing at this point is more about crisping the skin or developing flavor, rather than affecting the juiciness. But it’s a handy method for finishing off chicken after roasting or baking.
How to bake chicken after searing
Once your chicken pieces are nicely seared, you’re ready to finish cooking them off with baking. A few tips:
- Make sure to preheat your oven while searing.
- Use a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drippings.
- Bake at 375-450°F until cooked through.
- Avoid overcrowding pieces so they brown evenly.
- Flip or rotate halfway through for even cooking.
The total baking time will vary based on thickness. Bone-in chicken thighs may need 35-45 minutes, breasts 20-30 minutes. Check internal temperature to confirm doneness.
What’s the best oven temperature to bake chicken?
The ideal oven temperature for basic baked chicken tends to be in the 375-450°F range. Key factors include:
- 375°F: Gentler heat is good for delicate chicken breasts.
- 400°F: A happy medium suited for drumsticks, thighs, and wings.
- 425-450°F: Best for achieving crispy, browned skin.
Higher heat is great when you want browned, crispy skin. Lower temperatures work well for very thick cuts that require long cooking without burning.
How to tell when baked chicken is done
Check these signs to determine when baked chicken pieces are fully cooked through:
- Internal temperature reaches 165°F.
- Juices run clear when pierced.
- Meat near bones is no longer pink.
- Texture is firm to the touch.
An instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part offers the best doneness confirmation. Rest larger pieces like bone-in breasts and thighs for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Searing chicken before baking delivers huge flavor and texture benefits. A quick sear on the stovetop or in the oven develops a flavorful browned crust while keeping the interior juicy and tender after baking. Consider it an essential first step when roasting whole chickens or bone-in parts. For chicken breasts, searing helps prevent dryness and yields super moist, delicious results every time.