How to Sauté
Sauté means “jump” in French, which simulates the act of tossing food in a frying pan. Because sautéing cooks your food in small amounts of very hot oil, it uses fewer calories than some other cooking methods. Sautéing also sears the food to preserve the internal moisture and flavour. Another plus to the process is the creation of a delicious sauté sauce. This is done by deglazing the pan’s flavourful residue, letting all the cooking flavours combine before adding it to your meal.
Sautéing vs. Pan Frying
Sautéing differs from pan frying because of how the food is prepped and how much heat is used. Sautéing cooks small and/or chopped-up ingredients over a high heat to brown the food on the outside and cook it entirely through. Pan frying cooks at a lower heat, and often refers to cooking food in its entirety (such as whole chicken breasts).
Tools & Oil Selection
Sauté pans are typically wide and flat, allowing for good heat conduction to all of the ingredients. Food is sautéed in a single layer to allow for steam to escape, preventing your meal from stewing in its juices or the cooking oil. The pan should also be lightweight, allowing you to easily toss the ingredients. The outer rim should be curved to keep the food in the pan during tossing.
When sautéing, make sure you first select the right cooking oil for the job, keeping in mind the smoking points (the temperatures at which oils burn) for different oils. The smoking point of butter is 350°F, whereas oils range from 375-450°F. For Mediterranean style dishes, typically olive oil is used, whereas Asian cooking uses peanut or canola oils. You can melt butter into oil to raise the butter’s smoking point and add rich flavour to the sauté.
Before adding oil to the pan, always preheat the pan at medium-high to high heat since oils degrade when gradually heated. Cold ingredients placed in cold pans increase the release of moisture which will dry your food as it cooks. Use only enough oil or butter to provide a thin coat on the bottom of the pan; any more and the food will start to deep-fry creating unwanted oily results. No matter what the food is that you’re sautéing, there are common steps that you use throughout.
- Select a pan large enough to cook your food in a uniform single layer
- Heat the pan to a medium-high or high heat
- Add oil that has an appropriate smoking point for the food you’re cooking
- Add your food and ensure it sears to lock in moisture
- Cook your food uniformly on all sides by tossing or swirling the food in the pan, then remove and enjoy
Shrimp are a perfect food to sauté as the shrimp meat cooks quickly and readily absorbs flavour. You can use either fresh or frozen shrimp, but ensure that you cook it soon after thawing. If necessary, de-vein and shell your shrimp, then sauté at a medium heat in 1 tbsp of butter. Add other seasonings as desired and sauté for 5-7 minutes, turning and cooking on both sides.
Pan-seared scallops are one of the easiest delicacies to make. Rinse and dry your scallops, lightly seasoning them with salt. Use a high heat and vegetable oil mixed with butter for a great flavour. Place the scallops in the hot oil and do not move them for two minutes, then flip them once. Continue to cook for an additional minute. The scallops should be springy to the touch. If they’re firm or stiff, you’ve overcooked them.
Sautéed chicken is a perfect food for entertaining or creating a quick meal on the fly. Cut the chicken into uniformly sized pieces, rinsing and patting dry. Heat your pan, add your favourite oil and place chicken in a single layer, turning to ensure browning on all sides. Whole chicken breasts can be sautéed as well, but ensure the meat is hammered flat. This tenderizes the meat and allows for fast cooking.
Sautéed vegetables can be used on their own or as part of other recipes such as pastas and fajitas. Ensure the vegetables are cut into uniform size prior to cooking. Onions and garlic are typically added early to flavour the oil. Add longer-cooking vegetables such as carrots and potatoes first, medium-cooking vegetables like broccoli and peppers next, short-cooking vegetables like mushrooms, tomatoes and greens last. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, stirring once or twice until vegetables are tender.
Sautéing Mushrooms & Onions
A simple and flavourful side, mushrooms are a wonderful complement to many dishes. Make sure you use a pan large enough to sauté the mushrooms in a single layer. Using butter over medium-high heat with a touch of olive oil works best. Warm the oil and butter, then add your mushrooms, sautéing them for 3-4 minutes until golden brown, making sure to stir occasionally. Add salt and herbs to taste and continue to sauté for 1-2 minutes.
Sautéing concentrates the onion’s natural sugars, softening them and making them sweet. Chop or slice the onions as desired, but ensure that the pieces of onion are all uniform in size. Sauté in a butter-and-oil mixture over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes until the onions are supple and translucent. At this point they are sautéed. If you wish, you can continue to brown them so they caramelize. Just make sure you continually stir the onions to avoid burning.
- Add Oil to your Butter: When cooking with butter, ensure you add oil with a higher smoking point so that the butter does not burn but flavours your food with a rich buttery taste.
- Add Your Vegetables In Order: Add vegetables that cook longer (e.g. potatoes, carrots) before vegetables that take less time (e.g. leafy greens).
- Make a Sauce: Once your food is sautéed, add a broth, wine, or water to deglaze the pan, scouring the browned bits off the bottom and into the sauce.
- Ensure You Heat First: Make sure that you always sauté in the following order; heat the pan, then heat the oil, then the food.
- Mind Your Stirring: Toss the food frequently when sautéing foods like tender vegetables and bite-sized pieces of meat. Denser vegetables like potatoes should not be stirred too often as they will fall apart when they tenderize. Portion-sized meats like pork medallions and chicken breasts should only be turned once so that they are able to get a nice golden crust.
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