The ambient temperatures of late summer make the prospect of firing up the grill or oven broiler unappealing. Yet we're still craving a well-seared piece of meat or fish that isn't bathing in fat. Pan-broiling is perfect the way to get it without having a heat stroke in the process.

Pan-broiling is a dry-heat cooking method that evolved in the days when cooking was mostly done on an open hearth. Back then, true broiling was accomplished on a grate over live coals -the exact same method that we now refer to as grilling.

Adding a pan to the equation, usually of well-seasoned cast iron, provided a little extra protection for the food and made the process a little less smoky and messy, but it was still the same technique.

It's simple enough: the food is seared in a preheated, heavy-bottomed skillet in much the same way as it would under an oven broiler or over live coals on a grill. It's sometimes mistakenly called "sauteing," but the only thing it has in common with that method is the pan.

In sautéing, the food is almost constantly moving and there's always enough lubricating fat in the pan to help keep it mobile. Pan broiling employs very little or no fat at all, and the food remains relatively stationary, being turned only once or twice during the whole operation.

Though often used for relatively thin cuts of steak, chops, boned poultry breast cutlets, and fish, with care from the cook, pan broiling can be ideal for thicker cuts of meat, burgers, and fish steaks. In commercial kitchens that aren't equipped with a grill, it's the preferred method for cooking steaks: they're first pan broiled and then finished in a hot oven.

That can certainly be done at home if one doesn't mind turning the kitchen into a furnace, but with care, pan broiling can be accomplished completely on the stovetop.

Here are a few tips for getting the perfectly pan broil every time:

Choose a heavy-bottomed (that is, thick) skillet or fry pan for the job. It doesn't have to be seasoned cast iron, but that's the pan that will do the best job for you.

It's a misconception that the pan needs to be red-hot for proper pan broiling. It actually shouldn't be. But it does need to be well-heated before the food is added. Let it warm over medium heat for at least 3 or up to 5 minutes before you add the food to it. If you need more heat once the food's in the pan, raise it to medium-high.

If you're using a non-stick pan (say for something delicate such as a thin fish fillet), don't heat the pan dry: that'll damage the non-stick finish. Add a little bit of fat to the pan before you turn on the heat.

Let the first side fully sear before you try to turn the food. If it's sticking to the pan, that means the sear isn't complete. Let it alone until it naturally loosens. Once the surface is fully caramelized, it will actually let go of the pan.

If the recipe tells you to turn the food once or twice after the initial browning, let the second side fully sear and naturally loosen before you turn it again.

If the food begins to get too brown before the center is done to your taste, lower the heat. You may also cover the pan briefly, but don't let the moisture build up until it's steaming rather than broiling.

Pan broiling with a grill pan: Grill pans are heavy-bottomed skillets or shallow griddle-like pans with ribbed bottoms. They're great for pan broiling with the absolute minimum of fat, plus you get the lovely rib markings just like you'd get with an outdoor grill. The best kind is well-seasoned or enameled iron. Preheat the pan as directed in the recipes given here and then brush both the pan's ribs and the food with the fat you're using. The cooking times may be a little bit longer but not much, so keep an eye on it. My own favorite grill pan is the Le Creuset square enameled grill pan, but Lodge also makes a very nice one in pre-seasoned iron.

Needless to say, the grill pan ribs make it impossible to deglaze the pan for a sauce, but on the plus side, you're cooking with an absolute minimum of added fat, and the fat that renders from the meat is actually drained away in the wells between the ribs.


Pan-Broiled Ham Steaks with Orange Sauce

Precooked ham steaks are perfect candidates for pan broiling, but this is also a great way to prepare uncooked ham steaks. We tend to think of warm ham for cooler weather meals, but pan-broiled ham steaks are a perfect accompaniment for almost any late-summer produce. If you choose oval-shaped individual ham steaks, make sure you're getting a whole piece of meat that has been trimmed to the shape and not several smaller pieces that have been pressed into it.

You can finish it with the orange pan sauce given here or deglaze the pan with sherry or madeira, or you can omit the sauce serve it with Dijon mustard or horseradish sauce on the side.

Serves 4

1 center-cut bone-in ham steak, cut at least 1/2-inch or up to 1-inch thick, or 4 1/2-inch-thick boneless ham steaks

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, bacon drippings, or ham drippings

1 cup orange juice

1. Take ham from packaging and drain away liquid. Pat dry. Warm heavy-bottomed 11- to 12-inch pan over medium heat. When hot, add fat and swirl until melted and evenly coating bottom.

2. Add ham to and sear well on bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn and sear second side. Continue cooking, turning several times, until fat is golden and crisp at edges and ham is fully heated through, about 4-5 minutes longer. Take up to warm platter and keep warm.

3. Add orange juice to pan, raise heat to medium-high, and bring to boil, stirring and scraping the pan. Boil, stirring often, until orange juice is reduced to syrupy glaze, about 3 minutes. Turn off heat. Slice ham steak crosswise, spoon orange reduction over, and serve at once.


Perfect Pan-Broiled Steak

I've given this recipe before, but here it's streamlined to omit the oven-finish. Like the ham steak recipe, you can omit the deglace (pronounced deh-glah-SAY) given here and serve the steaks plain or with a pat of herb butter.

Serves 2

1 1-1/4-inch-thick strip steak (about 1 pound) or 2 1-1/4-inch-thick trimmed rib or tenderloin steaks

About 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

For optional deglace:

1 tablespoon finely minced shallot

1/2 cup dry white vermouth

2-3 tablespoons beef broth

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. Steaks should be at room temperature. Have all the side dishes ready. Wrap steaks well with paper towels and gently press to blot, then put well-seasoned 10-inch cast iron pan over medium heat. Leave it to heat for 3-5 minutes (setting a timer if necessary).

2. Unwrap steaks, add butter pan. It immediately starts to sizzle; quickly swirl to coat and add steaks. Raise heat to medium-high. Let sear until well-browned on bottom, about 3 minutes. If steaks seem to be sticking to pan, let sear until they naturally release.

3. Turn and season with salt and pepper. Sear that side for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, then turn and season second side well with salt and pepper. Lower heat to medium and cook, turning no more than once more, until done to taste, about 1-1/2 minutes for very rare (110-120 degrees F), 2 minutes for medium rare (125-130 degrees), 2-1/2 to 3 minutes for medium (135 degrees). Exact timing will depend on thickness: for best results, cook to temperature, using instant-read thermometer.

4. Remove steaks to plate or small platter. Let rest 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, divide whatever side dishes you're serving with steaks between two warm dinner plates. If using strip steak, slice thickly; leave rib or filets whole. Divide steak between plates. If not making deglace, serve immediately and omit remaining steps. If making deglace, keep warm.

5. To finish with deglace, return pan to medium heat. Add shallot and saute until golden. Add wine and broth, stirring and scraping to loosen cooking residue. Raise heat to high and let boil until liquids are reduced and almost syrupy, then quickly remove from heat and swirl or whisk in cold butter until melted and emulsified. Finally, swirl in parsley. If you've made a strip steak, slice it crosswise into an even number of slices. Quickly transfer the meat to the prepared dinner plates, divide sauce among them, and serve immediately.


Pan-Broiled Hamburger Steaks

Serve these as you would a steak, if you like, finishing them as for Perfect Pan-Broiled Steak with the wine deglace or topped with a pat of herb butter. Of course, they're also terrific on a toasted bun with all the usual burger garnishes, especially thinly sliced onion that has been sautéed in the drippings until tender and golden.

Serves 4

1-1/4 pounds best quality ground chuck

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 medium shallot, peeled and minced

Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

Worcestershire sauce, optional

About 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, butter, or drippings

1. Crumble ground meat into shallow mixing bowl. Melt butter in 11- to 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallot and saute until softened and pale gold, about 3 minutes. Turn off heat and transfer shallot to bowl with meat.

2. Season meat well with salt, pepper, and, if liked, Worcestershire. Gently mix, being careful not to knead and pack meat. Divide into 4 equal portions (about 5-ounces each) and lightly shape into 1/2-inch-thick ovals, compressing a dent into the center of each.

3. Wipe out pan in which shallot cooked and put over medium heat. Preheat for 3-4 minutes. Add barely enough fat to coat pan bottom and swirl to coat. Put in hamburger steaks, leaving space on all sides so they aren't crowded. Raise heat to medium-high. Cook until bottom side is seared and well-browned, about 2 minutes, turn, and sear second side, about 2 minutes longer.

4. Lower heat to medium again and cook, turning once more, until done to taste, about 2 minutes more for medium, 3-4 minutes for well done. Remove from pan to warm platter.


Pan-Broiled Fish Steaks

A fish steak is a thick slice from the body muscle perpendicular to the backbone, whereas fillets (usually from smaller fish) are cut away from the rib bones by slicing parallel to the backbone. A thick slice cut from a large meaty fillet is really a steak.

Serves 4

4 salmon, swordfish, or tuna steaks, cut 1-1/4-inch thick (about 1-1/2 pounds), or 4 1-1/4-inch-thick pieces of salmon, sea bass or grouper fillet weighing about 6 ounces each

Olive oil

Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

4 pats herb butter or extra-virgin olive oil, optional

2 lemons cut into 6 wedges each

1. Let fish sit at room temperature at least 15 or up to 30 minutes. If fish still has skin on, don't remove it, especially if using fillet pieces. If using fillet pieces, score skin in crisscross. Have all the side dishes ready. Put a well-seasoned 10-inch cast iron pan over medium heat. Leave it to heat for 3-5 minutes (setting a timer if necessary).

2. Pat fish dry and put in shallow dish. Drizzle lightly with oil and turn to coat. Season well with salt and pepper. Brush pan with oil and slip fish into pan (if using fillet pieces, put in skin-side down). Raise heat to medium-high. Let sear until well-browned on bottom, about 3 minutes. If they seem to be sticking to the pan, let them sear until they naturally release.

3. Turn and sear on that side for another 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, then turn and season second side well with salt and pepper. Lower heat to medium and cook until done to your taste, about 1 minute for medium-rare (110-120 degrees F), 2 to 3 minutes for well-done, depending on thickness.

4. Remove fish to serving plates (skin-side up if using fillets). If liked, brush with extra-virgin oil, divide lemon wedges among plates (3 per plate) and serve immediately.