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How To Use The Maillard Reaction To Up Your Cooking Game

Published by: Chef Matty Riedel • Updated: March 1, 2024

Do you ever wonder why the food from your favourite restaurant tastes so much better than what you make at home? 

It’s true that restaurant chefs liberally use ingredients like salt and fat, which can make food taste better. But there is a trick that you can use at home that won’t cost you any more money spent on fancy ingredients or high-end equipment. Restaurant food often tastes better because chefs know about something called the Maillard Reaction. 

The Maillard Reaction is the term used to describe how food, cooked at high temperatures, turns golden brown, sticky, and crispy. This is due to a natural reaction between amino acids and naturally occurring sugars that make your food taste sweeter, saltier, and more savoury, all at the same time.  
 
Employing the Maillard Reaction ensures your food will burst with flavours, aromas, and textures that will scream to your senses, “Eat me now!” The good news is that you can use the Maillard Reaction at home every day. All you need to do is crank up the heat! 

The Humble Burger Gets Smashed 

Let’s talk about everyone’s favourite, the humble burger. Whether grilled over hot coals or fried in a pan, a burger can be a real treat. The next time you crave a good burger, skip the drive-thru and make a smash burger at home.  

Here’s What You Need

  • 90g* of minced beef per person, well seasoned with salt and pepper 
  • Good quality hamburger buns and any toppings you like
  • A thick-bottomed pan (such as a frying pan or cast-iron skillet)  

*90g is our suggestion. You can always make yours bigger if you’re hungry!

Get your pan roaring hot for a few minutes. Put your minced beef in a small pile in the middle (make sure it is well seasoned with salt and pepper) and then smash – yes, SMASH it – into the hot pan or skillet, using the back of a metal bowl, small saucepan, or spatula. This AMAZING burger press works great too! Consider it an investment in your new Maillard Reaction lifestyle. 

Smash the beef until it is in a very thin layer in the hot pan – thinner than you’d normally press a burger – and let it cook in the pan for 1-2 minutes. Because the beef is spread so thin, it will cook quickly. Once the beef is showing clear signs of browning creeping over the edges, scrape it off the bottom of the pan or skillet (this is best done with a thin metal spatula) and flip it over to cook the other side. 1 minute later, you have the burger of your dreams. Thin, crispy, salty, fatty, and delicious!  

Top with cheese, bacon (if you’re feeling indulgent) or anything else you like on your burger (did I hear someone say caramelised onions?). Enjoy on a buttery toasted bun. That’s the Maillard Reaction at play in your mouth. The deep meatiness and saltiness of all those browned bits are the Maillard Reaction. It helps your food taste sweeter, saltier, and more umami. 

Crank Up the Heat On Your Veggies 

Most home cooks roast their food at too low a temperature to create good browning. Or worse yet, they boil their veggies into oblivion! Don’t be scared to crank up the heat and employ the Maillard Reaction. Browning equals flavour, the concentration of sugars, or the Maillard Reaction in real-time. Take the lowly sweet potato. Cooked properly, it’s a real treat!  

Here’s What You Need

Cut the sweet potatoes into manageable pieces (1 to 1.5 centimetres), toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and place on a roasting tray. Crank up your oven to 220 C (or 425 F), and roast until brown and tender, about 30-35 minutes. 

Maillard Reaction chef

Employing the Maillard Reaction by roasting at a higher-than-normal temperature will ensure your veggies are crispy on the outside, tender in the middle, with lovely brown bits around the edges, and sweeter all around. Delicious! 

You can try this with other veggies too: Broccoli florets (20-25 minutes), Brussels sprouts trimmed and halved (25-30 minutes), butternut squash (30-35 minutes). They’re all a real treat when you crank up the heat! 

The Bird Is The Word 

Sunday dinner can’t be beaten! And what’s better than a glorious, whole-roasted chicken that will feed you for days? There’s nothing worse than soggy skin, though. Here’s how you enjoy your roast, impress your friends and family, and make that chicken skin crispy and delicious. 

Here’s What You Need

  • 1-1.4 kg free-range chicken
  • Salt 
  • Olive oil and pepper 
  • A roasting tray or sheet pan 
  • Any additional seasonings or herbs you like, such as smoked paprika or fresh thyme 

Start by liberally salting the entire chicken, including inside the cavity. Don’t be shy about this! Place your salted bird on a roasting tray, uncovered, in your fridge. Do this overnight or up to 48 hours in advance. This will give the salt time to season the bird down through the meat and give the skin plenty of time to dry out, ensuring a crispy-skinned bird. 

When ready to roast, crank your oven to 220 C (or 425 F). Rub your bird with olive oil, pepper, and other seasonings you’d like, such as smoked paprika or thresh thyme. Roast your bird, breast side up, for about an hour. Depending on your bird’s size, it may take up to 90 minutes to cook it through. To see if your bird is done, wiggle the leg. If it easily separates from the thigh, it’s done! Alternatively, poke around where the leg and thigh connect to the bird’s cavity with a sharp knife. If the juices run clear, the bird is cooked through. If the juices run pink, put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes, then repeat. 

Once your bird is done roasting, remove it from the oven and rest for 15 minutes. This will allow the juices to redistribute throughout the bird. After a nice rest for your bird, carve it up. The crispy skin goes to the chef! All those crispy brown bits on this bird are the Maillard Reaction happening before your eyes. Tear off a piece of chicken skin, and let your taste buds run wild. So good! 

You’re A Maillard Reaction Hero! 

You did it! You’ve learned to use the Maillard Reaction to bring your home cooking up to the next level. Congratulations! Now, get cooking! 

Chef and Restaurant Owner Matty Riedel
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