Saute literally means "to jump" because when the pan and oil are as hot as they should be small foods will literally jump as they cook. This is a dry heat method of cooking that uses a little oil and a very hot pan to produce a golden brown surface on your food.
Step 1: Choose the right pan
Size does matter! Choose a saute pan that is large enough to saute the ingredients without overcrowding them. When foods are too close together they will steam during the cooking process and you won't get that crispy caramelization that you are looking for.
A flat bottom is important. Less expensive pans may warp on the heat and ruined. Get the best quality pan that you can afford - an enameled cast iron, anodized aluminum or heavy stainless steel pan with a copper heart will heat evenly without warping.
Hold the pan in your hand and make sure it is comfortable for you to use.
Step 2: Let the pan get hot
Always saute foods in a hot pan rather than placing them in a cold pan. Preheat the pan for a minute or so, or until you can feel the heat when you hold the palm of your hand over the pan.
Now add the oil. Three tablespoons of olive oil or two tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of unsalted butter works the best. Allow the oil to heat until the surface begins to shimmer and then add the ingredients that you want to saute. Foods saute best at extreme temperatures.
Step 3: Cut foods in uniform sizes
Cutting the ingredients in all the same size and shape will help all of the pieces to cook to the same level of doneness in the same amount of time. Smaller pieces will cook faster and have less chance of burning before the inside is done.
Step 4: Keep the ingredients moving
Don't step away from the saute pan. It is important to use a spatula to keep the foods constantly moving so that they don't stick to the bottom or scorch. Lift the food from the bottom of the pan and bring it up to the top so that it "jumps".
Alternately, meat, poultry and fish should be allowed to develop a good sear on one side before turning the protein over with heavy tongs and searing the other side. You'll know it is ready to turn when you can see a line on the edge of the meat that separates the cooked side from the raw side. This is called a cook line.
Step 5: Blot excess oil
When your food is done remove it from the pan and lay on paper towels. The paper toweling will absorb the excess oil and allow the foods to develop a crisp crust.
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