For me the basting part of pan searing does two things. Firstly it allows you to slow down and even out the cooking process. We start the cooking over high heat to create that great maillard reaction seared flavor. Then we lower the heat, add whole butter and baste. This way the butter browns but doesn't burn and the lower heat starts to even out the heat distribution which facilitates that crucial resting process that is so important to serving juicy, evenly cooked meat. I like Cast Iron for this. Secondly, it is a great opportunity to infuse your cooking fat with flavors that would scorch at the high heat required for searing. Whole garlic cloves, crushed but unpeeled, thyme branches, rosemary, bay leaves, black pepper, and spice blends like curry powder, ras al hanout, baharat, vadouvan, z'atar, or whatever you like are great for this part of the process. The lower heat blooms the perfume of the herbs and spices without scorching them. For me rubbing with the spices before searing tends to burn the spices and keep the meat from developing it's full flavor. As with all cooking processes it is all about heat control.
Is this a good example of the technique we're talking about?
To the OP's point: I ordered a whole steamed fish (cod) I think at a Canton Seafood place here in Houston (unfortunately, the restaurant is now closed). It was an eccentric little place, but the food was amazing. One of the better travelled of my friends said this place was spot on authentic in most of its dishes. Authentic or not, I ordered the whole steamed black cod with crispy skin. They wheeled out a cart with this fish on it, like it was a trophy. Then up ran a guy with boiling oil in a pot, while the waiter started spooning the hot oil onto the skin of the fish. Snap-crackle-pop was all I heard, while oil-shrapnel hit me in the face, and dotted my clothes. I wish I could describe the look on the waiters face -- a grimace of pain and pride. You could actually see the skin crisping and bubbling in some spots. You could hear some murmurs of worry from those close-by, as if they were witnessing something unreasonably dangerous. (they were). I wanted to say something, or dive out of the way, but it looked and smelled so good, I thought I'd take the heat. When he was done, he said something that only body language told me was something like "enjoy!". Well, enjoy I did. The fish was great, the skin was crispy, and smelled like toasted sesame oil (so did my jacket). The fish also had nice bits of meat in the cheeks, which were delicious. Easily, this was one of the best dishes I've ever had, and have the scars to prove it.
I'm not a professional cook, nor do I play one on television, but I baste my steaks all the time (four a week, at least), especially right before I throw it on a plate to rest. Can someone explain to me why what I'm doing is wrong and why it's something that is only done to be 'cool looking'? (looking at you Salty)
David (WildBoar's Kitchen)
The media had propelled some of these young chefs into stardom way too fast.
Shoot I think that my chef instructor in culinary school should be on tv. Old school German Classic/euro trained Master Chef. These 2 words still haunt me to this day..."Schnell, Schnell!!!!"
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"God sends meat and the devil sends cooks." - Thomas Deloney