Pan searing is great for any relatively small piece of protein, like your steaks and your chops, your chicken breasts and fish fillets. But to do it right, you first need to understand all the variables.

We call this method "pan searing" because it produces a lip-smacking, golden-brown crust surrounding a perfectly cooked inside. For chicken breasts, that's an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Steaks, chops and fish fillets are more challenging because it depends on how well-done you want them.

Pan searing is easy in the sense that there's not much to it: Drop a seasoned piece of protein in a hot, lightly oiled pan, then flip it halfway through. Done. Here's the caveat: There are a gajillion variables, and the only way to know those variables is to practice, practice, practice.

Sure, I can give some good advice that will increase your chances of success: Have a pan that's just big enough to hold what you're cooking. Get it nice and hot first, then dry your protein thoroughly and season it. But, the sad truth is that the main thing you want to know is, how long do we cook it? And the answer, always, is, "Until it's done."

You see, because of those aforementioned gajillion variables, there's no way to predict exactly how long something will take to cook. Consider:

  • Pan materials: Different metals conduct heat differently

  • Pan shape: Straight-sided pans trap moisture, preventing meat from browning as quickly as it would in sloped-sided pans

  • The protein: What is it and how thick?

  • Burner temperature: What does "medium-high heat" mean, anyway?

    Here's my best advice: Accept the fact that cooking well is not easy and requires practice. The more you practice, the quicker you'll understand those variables.

    Here are the basics:

    1. Set a sloped-sided saute pan, just big enough to hold your protein comfortably, over medium-high heat.

    2. When it's hot, add just enough fat -- oil, clarified butter -- to coat the bottom of the pan.

    3. Add your seasoned protein to the pan, presentation side down. ("Presentation side" is the most visually appealing side.) Don't touch the meat until it has developed a nice crust and is about halfway done, then flip it and cook until done.

    Once again, what's "done" is where that practice comes in. A good indication of doneness is touch. Raw meat is spongy. The more it cooks, the more the proteins tighten up and the firmer it becomes. Make a point, whenever you cook protein, to poke it and poke it some more. Feel the changes as it cooks. Insert an instant-read thermometer frequently to make the connection between internal temperature and firmness. Take notes. Eventually, you'll get it.