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Sautéing: what separates amateurs from pros

Photo: Scott Phillips
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Learn to sauté well and your cooking will improve dramatically. Why? Not only are properly sautéed foods delicious on their own—a well-browned exterior adds tons of flavor, as well as an appealing color—but other cooking methods, such as braising and roasting often begin with sautéing or searing (a variation on sautéing). Here are a few tips that will greatly improve your sautéing skills.

  • Dry the food. Before putting the food in the pan, pat off excess moisture with paper towels; otherwise the food will steam rather than brown.
  • Turn up the heat. The most important factor for a good sauté is heat—and lots of it. Though restaurant chefs may have a few extra BTUs on their burners, most home chefs don’t even turn the heat to high. “People are afraid of heat,” notes Gordon Hamersley, chef and owner of Hamersley’s Bistro of Boston, adding, “In our house, the heat is either on or off.” Put the food in the pan only when the pan and the fat in it are searingly hot (but not smoking). Then moderate the heat so the food is constantly sizzling but not burning.
  • Don’t crowd the pan. Be sure you can see the bottom of the pan between the pieces of food. Too much food will lower the temperature of the pan, creating a lot of steam, meaning you won’t get good browning.
  • Let the food sit in the hot pan before tossing or turning it. A common mistake is to fidget with the food, turning and poking at it constantly. To promote browning, leave the food alone—for as long as a few minutes for some foods—before you move it or flip it.

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