The Time-Saving Tactic When Searing Beef For Your Instant Pot

Time is often the dearest expense for a home cook. As the days grow shorter (and colder), many of our hearts will turn to making a thick and luscious beef stew, but do we always have the time to simmer one all day on the stove? Often, the answer is no — but that's when the Instant Pot rocks up with its pressure-cooker solution. With this handy device, you can make a deeply satisfying stew from start to finish in an hour and a half, or even less if you can figure out other time-saving tricks. Here's one: You need only sear your stew beef on one side to get that all-important browning effect, and while not ideal, it's worlds better than just throwing all the stew ingredients into the Instant Pot.

Why? Browned beef does many wonderful things. First off, it tastes amazing, adding more depth, complexity, and a little caramelly sweetness to the stew. The crisp resistance of a nugget of browned beef is also an irreplaceable texture. Lastly, searing creates fond — those yummy little bits of caramelized beef left on the bottom of the pan that any liquid (wine, stock, or even water) will deglaze in order to incorporate into the gravy. Any decent meat sauce starts with fond; you'd better believe your winter beef stew should too.

Not searing your beef doesn't actually save any time

Now that we've established the necessity of browning stew beef, you need to know that there are some cooking corners that should never be cut. In this case, we're talking about overcrowding the pan. While it's tempting to think that putting all the stew beef in the Instant Pot will make the browning process go more quickly, in fact, the opposite will happen. Overcrowding will reduce the heat, losing the relatively high temperature vital for browning (a magical yet scientific process otherwise known as the Maillard reaction). Worse, overcrowding will cause the stew beef to stick and dump out all its internal moisture. The result will be steamed beef that is both garishly pale and disappointingly dry. 

This unavoidable reality requires you to sear your stew beef in batches. If you're really pinched for time (even with the Instant Pot's mighty assist), letting only one side of the beef get lovely and browned will satisfy both your flavor and fond requirements. Of course, this isn't the ideal way of doing it — searing all sides of the beef is — but sometimes "needs must when the devil drives." A dark winter's night is that much more enjoyable when accompanied by a bowl of richly flavorful beef stew, and this trick will help you get it if saving time is of utmost importance.