Sautéing is a way of cooking food in a pan over high heat for a super quick and delicious meal. Don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen? Craving something hot and flavorful? Learning how to sauté is a great way to go!
Saute vs. Frying
When you are cooking food in a pan using some kind of butter or oil you are either sautéing or frying it.
Both are delicious ways of cooking your food, but they are a little bit different.
- When frying you would use 1/4 of an inch or so in fat or oil (and you’ll use a type of fat that has a high smoking point, such as vegetable oil or lard.)
- Frying also uses larger pieces of food, and they are usually covered in breading before you begin the frying process. You also can leave the food frying for a while, except for the occasional flip, and let it cook.
- With sautéing you want to lightly coat the pan in a small amount of fat or oil to prevent the food from sticking to the pan, and keep the food moving constantly so that each side cooks evenly.
- You’ll want to use smaller sizes of foods, and ones that will cook quickly.
How to Saute
The word “saute” comes from the word “sauter,” which is French for jump, regarding what your food does in the pan when you saute it.
You want the pan hot enough that when the food touches the oil it sizzles, browns, and… jumps. You can shake the saute pan back and forth making the food jump in the air, and saute to perfection.
Now, if you aren’t a professional chef, and you don’t want to risk chicken and vegetables flying all over your kitchen, have no fear! The saute effect can be accomplished with tongs or a wooden spoon.
Sautéing can be done in 3 simple steps:
1. Oil and heat your pan
First, you heat your pan. To saute, you want a medium high – high heat.
Lightly coat your pan in some kind of fat, such as oil or butter. In order to pick the best type of fat, two factors need to be considered: taste, and the smoking point.
If you want an Asian-style saute, the flavors of sesame oil will complement the dish while olive oil will fit the taste of a Mediterranean-style meal.
A smoke point is the point at which oil burns. Different oils have different smoking points.
Butter adds a nice flavor to your saute, but has a smoking point of 302 degrees, while canola oil has a smoking point of 400 degrees.
Butter has a faster ability to burn and the canola oil can stand the heat longer.
While you can saute with butter you would need to keep the smoking point in mind and keep an eye on your saute. If you use butter you may need a lower heat or use it in a quick saute such as sautéing spinach. (Some people do both oil and butter together to get the buttery flavor and still have the fat with the higher smoking point as well.)
To learn more about smoking points and get a list of the most common oils and their smoking points click here.
If you read a recipe for sauteing something, it will typically say to add 2-3 tablespoons of oil. That amount is a good rule of thumb, but it also depends on the size of your pan. Since the person who wrote the recipe doesn’t know what size pan you have, just lightly coat the bottom of it. You want enough oil to cook what you are making evenly, but not so much that it is drowning in oil. If your pan seems dry you can always add more oil as you go along.
2. Add your food
You can saute many things. Chicken, onions, shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, and peppers, and a whole lot more. Because sauteing is so fast you’ll want types of food that are smaller, and easier to cook. Before sauteing your vegetables, slice them into uniform pieces so they cook evenly. The same rule applies when sauteing meat, try to use thin smaller size pieces. Click here for super sharp knives for extra fine cuts.
You’ll want to be able to fit everything on one layer in your pan so it will all cook together.
3. Saute it
Here is where shaking the pan comes into play, or grabbing a wooden spoon or tongs. You want the vegetables or meat browned and cooked evenly. Sautéing is a very fast process, and you will often be flipping your veggies or meat onto its other side to cook.
When finished, vegetables should be tender, with a tiny bit of crunch. If you were sautéing meat, make sure to check to see if it is cooked all the way with a meat thermometer. View a safe minimum cooking chart here.
What is The Best Pan to Saute With?
There are two types of pans that work great for sautéing. A frying pan (also known as a skillet), or a saute pan.
Frying pans have sloped sides, and they don’t usually come with lids.
Saute pans typically come with lids, and have straight sides that are a little taller than a skillet.
Saute pans are also deeper than frying pans.
Both will get the job done, and there are pros to both.
It is really a matter of preference, but you do want a big enough pan to hold everything in one layer. Here is a great frying pan to use or a high quality but affordable cookware set here including three frying pans, one saute pan, and more.