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Aug 02

Sauté – the workhorse of the stovetop

When you think of cooking something quickly on the stove, you’re probably thinking of sautéing. The cooking school definition is to cook over high heat in a small amount of fat. It’s an important skill, and one that you’ll use a lot in the kitchen. It’s also really simple as long as you follow a couple of very simple rules. Sautéing is a cooking technique – it’s fast, and you get a lot of flavor by letting the surface brown just a bit (that’s called caramelization). It’s a great way to make a fast one pan dinner, especially if you’re cooking for one.

What you’ll need:

  • A wide, flat bottomed pan.  Avoid nonstick – coatings like teflon actually burn off slightly with high heat.  If you do it correctly, you won’t need a nonstick pan anyway. The classic sauté pan has sloped sides so you can flip your food by tossing the pan, but any wide-bottomed pan will do. It should hold what you’re cooking without crowding.  The food should be in a single layer on the bottom of the pan, so if you’re not sure, pick your bigger pan. Food releases a lot of water when you cook it, and you don’t want the food to steam or boil.
  • Fat to sauté with.  The fat you choose will depend on what you’re cooking, but it can be plain vegetable oil, peanut oil, olive oil, lard, duck fat – you just want to use something that will complement what you’re cooking.
  • Something to sauté – onions, mushrooms, shrimp, zucchini … what ever tickles your fancy.
  • Your seasonings – sometimes salt is enough, but pepper, herbs, or other flavorings.
  1. As always, the first step is to prep – get your ingredients together BEFORE you start cooking.  If you’re chopping or slicing vegetables, grinding up spices, or chopping fresh herbs, do that first, and have it ready at the stove before you start.
  2. Set the burner on medium high heat (around 8), and put the pan on.  Don’t put anything in it yet.  Seriously. Just heat the pan for a minute or two.  A dry pan that isn’t nonstick isn’t going to be hurt or cause a fire if you leave it for an extra minute or two, but teflon in a pan, or cooking fats can smoke, burn, or catch fire if left unattended.
  3. When the pan is hot, add the fat.  Oils should swish easily to coat the pan almost immediately.  If you’re using a solid fat like lard or duck fat, let it completely liquefy.  The bottom of the pan should be coated, but shouldn’t have a pool of oil in the bottom.
  4. Add your food. The great thing about adding food to a hot pan is that it doesn’t stick.  Now, get the food moving! Use a spatula, a wooden spoon, shake the pan, but move the food around in the bottom of the pan.
  5. As they used to say in my Grandma’s old recipes, cook until done.
  6. Plate, eat, and enjoy!

 

 

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