By Chef Instructor Bill Briwa, The Culinary Institute of America
How can you use a few basic ingredients to make dinner fast? One word: sauté. This versatile cooking technique can be used to create a wide variety of sensational dishes. Find out what one pan and a few items can do to transform meal preparation from time-consuming to simple and delicious.
In all of cookery, there are only four cooking techniques: dry-heat cooking with fat, dry-heat cooking without fat, moist-heat cooking, and combination cooking. Dry-heat cooking with fat embraces sautéing and stir-frying. The significance of using oil, or fat, instead of water in this technique is that oil allows the use of very high temperatures, which allow your food to brown very effectively. Browned food not only looks great, but it also has great flavor. Steak, chicken, and fish are tender proteins that respond well to dry-heat cooking with fat.
Learn more about the science of taste and how it acts as the gateway to better understanding—and enjoying—the food you eat
Which Foods Are Appropriate for Sautéing?
Because sautéing is a high-heat cooking technique, you have to be careful what you cook using this method. There’s nothing about highheat that will make food become more tender, so anything that is already tender—such as a chicken breast, steak, or piece of fish—would be appropriate for sautéing. If you tried to sauté something that is tough, such as a beef shank, it would brown, but it would not become tender.
This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking. Watch it now, Wondrium.
Browning is a high-heat cooking technique that reaches temperatures above 300 degrees. In those temperature ranges, some browning reactions take place. For example, caramelization, in which sugars begin to brown, happens at about 300 to 310 degrees. In addition, the Maillard reaction takes place between proteins and carbohydrates, and while it begins at about 250 degrees, it is in full form at above 300 degrees. The Maillard reaction not only offers the brown color that develops, but it also results in hundreds of flavor and aroma compounds. In general, browning translates into flavor
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A sautoir is a type of sauté pan that has straight sides while a sauteuse is a type of sauté pan that has curved sides. The straight sides of a sautoir are great for creating a sauce with a lot of liquid while the curved sides of a sauteuse are great for flipping food in a pan because the curved sides help the food jump back on itself.
Make Chicken Marsala Using the Art of Sauté
Proportions to taste
- chicken breasts
- ground black pepper
- canola oil
- shallots, minced
- mushrooms, sliced
- white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
- chicken stock
- bay leaf
- parsley, chopped
The process of making chicken marsala utilizes sautéing, which is a type of dry-heat cooking with fat. Start by seasoning both sides of some chicken breasts with a little bit of salt and pepper.
Make sure that you use a sauté pan that is on the larger side because if the pan is too small, then the chicken will not brown—instead, it will just simmer in its own liquid. Alternatively, if the pan is too large, then there will be portions of the pan that will not have food, and because there is nothing to absorb the excess heat, the oil is going to burn in those areas where there is no food. Because sautéing is a high-heat technique, you want to begin with plenty of heat in the thermal mass of the pan. Therefore, start with the burner of the stove turned up all the way. Then, add any oil that has a high smoke point, such as canola oil, which is able to tolerate the high heat involved in sautéing.
Because sautéing is a high-heat technique, you want to begin with plenty of heat in the thermal mass of the pan. Therefore, start with the burner of the stove turned up all the way. Then, add any oil that has a high smoke point, such as canola oil, which is able to tolerate the high heat involved in sautéing.
If you reach the flash point and your pan catches fire, put a lid on it, pull it off the heat, and the lid will starve the fire of oxygen. Then, you can just let the fire die out.
Once the oil begins to creep around the pan and you notice the first few wisps of smoke, the oil has reached its smoke point, so you want to add the chicken to the pan to bring the temperature down. When you put the chicken in the pan, make sure to put it in away from you so that you don’t burn yourself. If you ignore the first few wisps of smoke, the smoke point will quickly turn into the flash point.
When you put the chicken in the pan, make sure to put it in away from you so that you don’t burn yourself. If you ignore the first few wisps of smoke, the smoke point will quickly turn into the flash point.
When you notice that some browning is beginning to take place, turn the temperature down just a little bit. As a general rule, cook chicken for eight minutes per inch of thickness, but regulate the heat so that the chicken doesn’t brown too much too early in the process.
Once the sizzling in the pan starts to subside, you need to determine when it is appropriate to turn the chicken over so that the other side can cook. You want the browning on the first side to have progressed to the point where the fat has rendered out of the skin. Look for a nice golden color and then turn it over and cook it on the second side. When you stop hearing the sizzling once you have turned the chicken over, the chicken should be done cooking. The chicken should have a golden color on both sides, and the skin should be crispy.
When Is Chicken Done Cooking?
There are a number of ways to determine doneness for a chicken breast. For chicken that is thin, it is easiest to just poke it with your finger, making sure to test it in the thickest part of the meat. The way to understand what you feel is as follows: If you relax your hand and poke yourself in the thick part of your palm, it should feel like raw meat. If you touch your thumb to your first finger, the thick part of your palm will firm up, and that is what rare meat should feel like. If you touch your thumb to your middle finger and then poke that same part of your palm, that is what medium meat should feel like. If you do the same thing with your ring finger, it will feel like medium-well meat, and if you do the same thing with your pinky, it will feel like well-done meat.
Let the chicken rest in a warm spot while you make the sauce that will accompany the chicken. Allowing the chicken to rest for a little while will result in a juicier piece of meat because as the chicken cooked, pressure built up inside of the meat, and if you were to cut into it too quickly, that pressure would allow all the juices to flow out. As the chicken rests, the temperature and pressure begin to subside, and the juices remain where they should be.
Some of the liquid that is left in the pan after the chicken is done cooking is the fat, in the form of oil, that you started with, and some of it is the juices that came out of the chicken as it cooked. In order to separate the fat from the liquid so that you are left with just the chicken essence, put the pan back on the stove over heat and boil the liquid until it is dry.
What’s left will cling to the pan, and at that point, you can pour the excess fat out of the pan. Depending on how much moisture is in the liquid, this may take a minute or two, but don’t let the liquid get so dark that it burns and becomes bitter. The brown residue that is found on the bottom of the pan after you pour most of the fat out is called fond and will become the basis of the sauce that will accompany the chicken.
As you sauté these vegetables, the sizzling that you hear is the moisture that is leaving them.
To start, put the pan back on the heat and add some minced shallots and sliced mushrooms to it. When the fond seems like it is getting too dark, deglaze the pan by introducing a little bit of white wine, such as sauvignon blanc. Then, add some marsala, which is a sweet wine. The addition of the wine will bring the temperature of the pan down.
Use some tongs to scrape the residue off the bottom of the pan. This should taste rich, savory, and a little acidic because of the wine. Let the liquid in the pan simmer, reducing it until it is nearly dry—what the French would call à sec. If you decide you want a larger amount of sauce, you can also introduce some chicken stock, which reinforces the flavor of chicken as it reduces.
While the liquid simmers, add a bay leaf and a branch of thyme, just to make the flavor more complex.
As soon as the pan is almost dry, add some cream to it. You need enough sauce for all of the chicken breasts you cooked, but don’t be too generous because if you add too much cream, it will water down the flavor of the sauce. As this liquid reduces even further, it will start to thicken.
Once the sauce is done, you can turn down the heat and place the chicken into the pan with the sauce—just to warm it up very briefly. The sauce should be fairly assertive because it has to flavor the entire dish, so it may need to be more assertive than you would expect it to taste on its own. You want the sauce to coat the back of a spoon while still being a liquid— which is referred to in French as nappé. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, swirling each in.
Then, remove the bay leaf and thyme. Finally, put the chicken—along with some sauce—on a plate and put a little bit of chopped parsley on top to add some color to this dish.
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Common Questions About How to Sauté
Generally sautéing is done by flipping the food as it sizzles; however, with larger cuts of meat or vegetables, a lid can be added to finish the process.
Aside from steaming, sautéing is the healthiest way to cook, and for some vegetables like asparagus and tomatoes, it brings out their nutrients better than any other method.
Generally sautéing is done by heating the pan to around 212°F before adding the oil.
The best way to tell if the pan is hot enough for a sauté is to watch it, and right when the pan begins to generate slight wafts of thin smoke, then it is time to add the oil, let the oil heat for a few seconds, and add the food.