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I recently encountered a few recipes where food is not allowed to 'get colour', or become brownish while baking. A few examples of what I mean:

  • Chicken turns a golden-brown colour.
  • Burgers get a very dark crust.
  • Onions turn brown.

How do I avoid my food becoming this colour when cooking? Is there a way that works in general or if not, a way to find out how to do this for the food I am cooking today?

Specifically, in this recipe for white asparagus panna cotta, a brown colour is undesired.

Bak de asperges een minuutje of 5; ze mogen niet kleuren!
Cook the asparagus for less than 5 minutes; ensure they don't change colour!

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    Note that the brown is usually desirable, it's flavor. – GdD Jul 6 '18 at 7:14
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    @GdD Not for a starter of Panna cotta with white asparagus: it needs to remain white... ;-) – Fabby Jul 6 '18 at 8:30
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    @Fabby oh 'bak' in this case is not 'bake', even though it sounds the same, right? 'Cook' is for both 'boiling' and 'stir frying', and 'baking' is for a cake or a lasagne in the oven, is that correct? Thanks for helping with the translation :) – Belle-Sophie Jul 6 '18 at 8:37
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    Ah! You found the hidden message! ;-) Yup, indeed: "Bakken" is not the same as "bake"... And I'm pretty sure you're using way too high Temperature: "geklaarde boter" should remain yellow: making that will help you see at which kinds of heat setting you should cook this recipe (low) as Stephie already mentioned below. – Fabby Jul 6 '18 at 8:39
  • @Fabby Thanks! I haven't actually tried the recipe yet. I just don't want to ruin my asparagus :) – Belle-Sophie Jul 6 '18 at 9:46
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The "browning" or "coloring" of food during cooking and baking1 is a reaction of temperature and/or time. As a rule of thumb, the hotter your pan or oven, the faster the food will brown.

There are two chemical reactions (or rather chains of reactions) that play a significant role in cooking:

Both require temperatures well over 100°C (212°F), so one of the easiest preventative measures is to add water to the food you are cooking, which should keep the food at 100°C (212°F) until all water is evaporated - for example blanching or steaming vegetables instead of stir-frying them or poaching a piece of fish or chicken breast vs. pan-frying or grilling. For "dry" preparations, just don’t heat up your pan too much - often 25% or so of the maximum power will suffice- and simply stop cooking before you see browning. You may have to finish cooking it by a low-temperature method, if it's not done at that point.

In your sample recipe, this happens when you add the cream and simmer the asparagus for another ten minutes or until soft.


1 Browning as oxidizing (e.g. leaving a cut apple exposed to air) is not part of your question, hence ignored.

  • Stephie, if you read the sentence before the one quoted in the Q "Verhit de geklaarde boter in een pan met dikke bodem. Bak de sjalotjes en de knoflook aan tot ze zacht zijn (zonder te bruinen)" means "Heat up the clarified butter in a pan with a thick bottom. 'Bake' the shallots and garlic until soft (without browning)" clearly calls for low heat so adapted your already excellent answer to reflect that additional information and upvoted. – Fabby Jul 6 '18 at 7:51
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    @Fabby “read” is slightly beyond my abilities - “roughly decipher the general idea” is probably the better description >.< But thanks for the edit, appreciate it! – Stephie Jul 6 '18 at 8:03
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    If it specifically mentions clarified butter, that also is something that contributes to less browning, doesn't it? – Joe M Jul 6 '18 at 21:08
  • @JoeM yes, in a way. The milk solids in regular butter can produce dark specks if heated too much (which should be avoided in the given recipe anyway). In a way, using clarified butter is like an extra safety measure. – Stephie Jul 10 '18 at 12:20
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Cook your food sous vide and ensure it is safe while never approaching the temperatures at which carmelization or the Maillard effect take place.

For example, the safe temperature for chicken is 165 deg F (74 deg C). If the vacuum sealed pouch containing the chicken is placed in a bath of circulating water at that temperature long enongh to have the same internal temperature, it will be heated through and safe to eat, but never brown

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    For the given recipe, this would mean a significant change. And not everyone has a sous-vide setup. – Stephie Jul 6 '18 at 8:05
  • Still a good suggestion if it introduces someone to the technique if they hadn't considered it before. Not everyone is averse to trying something new. – Jim Jul 6 '18 at 15:18
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    There’s absolutely no reason for sous-vide here: The only requirement is to stay below 100° C. Normal cooking in water does this, pretty much by definition. Sous-vide only makes sense when temperatures < 100° C are desired. – Konrad Rudolph Jul 6 '18 at 16:22

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