It’s pretty basic knowledge that food can be cooked in a multitude of ways, and likewise that the ways in which someone can cook something will typically result in subtle differences in the food’s texture and taste. Some foods come out better cooked one way then they may do, although to some extent one’s mileage will vary on this matter. Today, we’re going to look at a specific form of cooking that is often slightly misunderstood; Sautéing.
Adapted from the French word Sauté (literally translated as either “Jumped” or “Bounced”), Sautéing is a form of shallow frying; typically, food that is to be Sautéd is cut into small pieces or thinly sliced to facilitate faster cooking, before being shallow fried in a small amount of oil or fat over a high heat, with the ingredients often moved around the pan rapidly to further facilitate the quicker cooking time; hence also the origin of the name. Although relatively similar to Searin; and indeed, Sautéing will often lead to the food being browned in some manner; it differs in that Searing solely browns the outside of the food rather then cooking it through.
The slight misunderstanding regarding Sautéing is primarily that a large portion of people cooking in the home will use Olive Oil or regular Butter/Margarine to Sautée something. You should avoid using these when Sautéing, for a couple of reasons; as far as Olive Oil is concerned, the comparatively low Smoke Point of the oil (the highest temperature point that the Oil can be used under until volatile compounds in the oil begin to break down and degrade) makes it unwieldy to use in high heat and high pressure cooking, and the presence of Milk Solids in Butter will burn more quickly at a lower temperature. Although, as Butter is often said to impart more flavour during the Sautéing process, it is suggested that if you decide to use Butter, that you use Clarified Butter instead.
Other little things worth baring in mind include making sure that the pan being used to Sautée is fairly large, as you want the food to take up only a single “layer”, to allow the steam to escape. This will prevent the foods from Stewing instead of Sautéing, and will promote the development of a Fond. You can actually find specifically designed Sautéing pans with low, straight walls and a flat surface, allowing plenty of room for the food to space out and be shuffled around without as much danger of spilling it over the side. Also, it is imperative that you only use a small amount of your chosen Fat or Oil; too much of either will result in the food Frying rather then Sautéing.