Technique of the Week: Sautéing

The French word sauté is a past participle of the verb "to jump." Similar to pan-frying, this cooking method uses a small amount of fat in a shallow pan over relatively high heat. Always heat your pan with oil before adding the ingredients. When ingredients are added to the pre-heated pan, they hop and "jump" around in the pan confirming that you have begun with a sufficient amount of heat. Only enough fat to lightly coat the bottom of the pan is needed for sautéing; too much fat will cause the food to fry rather than just to slide across the surface of the pan. Olive oil or clarified butter are commonly used for sautéing, but most fats will do. Regular butter will produce more flavor, but has a tendency to burn more quickly than other fats due to the presence of milk solids, so clarified butter is more fit for this use.

The most common use of this method is preparing vegetables for stews or casseroles. When sautéing, the vegetables should be stirred constantly because they are usually finely chopped and need to be kept moving to prevent them from burning and sticking in the hot pan. The browned vegetables are fully cooked while preserving its texture, moisture and flavor. If meat, chicken, or fish is sautéed, the sauté is often finished by deglazing the pan's residue to make a sauce. Sautéing differs from searing in that searing only browns the surface of the meat in preparation for other cooking methods.

Tricks and tips:
  • Use a sauté pan. The sauté pan is designed specifically for that little flip that ensures even cooking.
  • Cut your items to a uniform size to ensure even cooking.
  • Choose the right size of pan; overcrowding will cause the food to steam instead of caramelize.
  • Sautéing is versatile in terms of which fat to use. Depending on flavor profile, any number of fats can be used. The idea is to use about 1-2 tablespoons preheated in the pan on medium-high to high heat depending on the oil and the item to be sautéed. Check your recipe or this Whole Foods Guide is an excellent source for determining the best oil to use and their flavor profiles.
  • For veggies and fruits: Once your oil is hot, add your item and toss to evenly coat with oil and allow to brown on one side. Then toss again and allow to brown, until you have even browning on all sides. Don’t toss too often, it will prevent caramelization from happening. When all sides are nice and brown, lower the temperature to avoid scorching and cook to desired crispness.
  • For meats such as fish, chicken, pork and steak: season your meat with salt, pepper on both sides or marinate as instructed by the recipe. If marinated, dry the outside of the meat on paper towels to avoid hot oil spatters. You can lift an edge of your protein to check the color before turning it. You want to only turn it once, especially for delicate items such as fish.
Quick Cooking Guide:
  • Fish: Sauté until outside is golden and fish begins to flake when tested with a fork.
  • Chicken: Sauté until no longer pink and internal temperature is 160° F. For thicker pieces such as legs and thighs, consider a quick sear in an oven-proof pan then moving the item to a pre-heated 350°F oven to reach desired doneness.
  • Steak: Preheat the pan, sear for 1-2minutes per side on high, then reduce temperature to medium and cook to desired doneness. Can be finished in the oven after a quick sear if desired. This method is recommended for thicker cuts of meat.
  • Pork chop (bone-in or boneless): Preheat the pan, sear for 1-2 minutes per side on high, then reduce heat to medium and cook to internal temperature of 145-155°F depending on desired doneness. Can also be finished in the oven.
Some of our recipes that include sautéing include: