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I'm planning on making a big batch of chili this weekend. Usually I brown/cook all the meat before putting everything in a pot to simmer for several hours.

I just read On Browning Ground Meat in Recipes | Serious Eats which suggests only browning a portion of the meat before cooking the rest.

I understand about browning & flavors from the Maillard reaction.

My question is: Since I'm going to be simmering everything for several hours, do I need to cook the rest of the meat before mixing with everything else? Should I?


Update: Wish I could mark all the answers as accepted! Mouth feel is something that I hadn't considered in thinking about cooking the meat before simmering.

FYI, I'm using a combo of chopped chuck & Italian sausage. My current plans are to brown one side of the chuck, and cook/drain the sausage, reserving the fat for a roux as suggested by @CosCallis

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I'd be interested to know how this turns out and what if anything you might change the next time you cook it. Do follow up on this. –  spiceyokooko Jan 22 '13 at 21:44
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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

What do you mean by "need"?

  • Will the stew have a deeper, richer, more savory flavor if you brown the meat first? Absolutely yes, due the maillard compounds you alluded to.
  • Is it necessary to brown the meat before the long braise in the stew for food safety reasons? Not at all. You can cook it unbrowned, and it will be perfectly safe assuming you otherwise practice good food safety: bring it up to cooking temperatures fairly rapidly, and cook it long enough. Neither of these are usually a problem in stews.

In fact, some cuisines don't generally brown meats before boiling or poaching them, and still have outstanding outcomes--I am thinking of Tex/Mex taco fillings (not the ground beef kind, for example).

Now, as to should? Personal preference. I would choose to because I like the beefy flavors browning brings to the table.

Kenji Alt is now recommending just browning one side well, and then beginning the stew or braise, which I think is a very reasonable compromise. See his Carne Adovada article for discussion on this. This is the article that lead to his thoughts on browning ground beef that you cited.

. . .

On re-reading your question, I wonder if you are implying that you are using ground meat. Since you said stew, I was assuming the meat was not ground.

If you are using ground meat, as in chili, which is essentially a ground beef and chili stew, you still have options.

Browning will lead to more flavor, but require longer stewing to have a fully tender mouthfeel, as the browning will initially make the meat tough.

Just cooking through (greying, as it were) will lead to a firmer mouth feel than beginning the stew with raw ground meat, which leads to a soft, silky type of texture, almost. This is actually traditional in some Cincinnati Chili recipes.

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Chili is not necessarily made with ground beef - chili enthusiasts often prefer something like finely chopped chuck. And there are a lot of kinds of tacos in Tex-Mex, along with the whole continuum between Mexican and Tex-Mex; not sure what you're referring to, but many of the meats do indeed get browned. –  Jefromi Jan 22 '13 at 17:33
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Yeah, I was assuming not ground beef at first.... I agree on the variety of tacos, too. Probably should have been less ambiguous, as "don't generally" can mean either "don't always" or "almost never" depending on how you read it. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 22 '13 at 17:51
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First, I concur with @SAJ14SAJ. An additional reason (that you may 'need/want') to brown the meats first is that it will allow you to drain a fair portion of the oils from the meat before incorporating into the remaining ingredients. Depending on the quality of the meats you have selected this could be a significant volume. Draining off this grease will improve your chili (IMHO). For my part I will reserve (save) the grease then use it to make a roux that will be added back in toward the end to help thicken the mix.

[Edit] For those who may be interested, the dark roux recipe that I use (from Alton Brown) can be found here. Although AB starts with vegetable oil, I have found that animal fats work very well, adding a more complex flavor. Remember though, the 'darker' the roux, the less it will thicken, which is why I recommend baking less time than the 1 1/2 hours listed.

Correction: baking temp for the roux is 350°F (not 250) as I mentioned in the comments.

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+1 I like the idea of using some of the drained fat to incorporate into a thickening roux. What colour would you generally cook the roux to for this purpose? And what ratio of fat/to flour would you use? –  spiceyokooko Jan 22 '13 at 13:21
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I use a 1:1 ratio and then bake the roux @ 250°F for about an hour. Not quite a 'red brick' roux, though the color is close. Adds good flavor while thickening better than a 'red brick' will do. –  Cos Callis Jan 22 '13 at 18:03
    
+1 I had never heard of an oven baked roux before -- I'm definitely going to give this a try. –  mike Jan 22 '13 at 18:20
    
Baking the roux is a trick I picked up from Alton Brown. It is too easy to over cook a dark roux on the stovetop. –  Cos Callis Jan 22 '13 at 18:23
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The answer to your question is given on the page you referenced.

Since I'm going to be simmering everything for several hours, do I need to cook the rest of the meat before mixing with everything else?

No, not unless you want to. In terms of ensuring the meat is cooked correctly, simmering for 2 hours or more is more than enough time.

Should I?

That's a trickier question and depends on what you're looking for in your dish.

By browning all or some of the meat first you're adding another layer of flavour to your dish. The downside to that will be that the meat that was browned, after two hours simmering will be overcooked. So that's a flavour v texture decision to make.

Another consideration might be the amount of fat you incorporate into your finished dish. Depending on the fat content of your chosen ground beef, which does vary somewhat, browning the meat first allows you to remove some or all of that fat before adding it to your dish. By adding the uncooked ground beef directly to your dish, you have no way of removing any of that fat content. That may or may not be an issue for you, but there are certainly some people (myself included) that like to be able to control and regulate the amount of animal fats I consume.

A reasonable balance between flavour, texture and fat content would appear to be a combination of browned first and adding uncooked ground beef, but the right ratio for you is probably something you would need to find by experimentation.

If it were me, I would brown all the ground beef first, for two reasons. First for the additional flavour and second for the ability to remove the fat content. But that's just me and my personal preference.

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