Welcome back to class. During the next several class sessions, we will be exploring the different methods of cooking food. These methods are classified as dry, moist, or a combination of dry and moist. Dry methods include sautéing, roasting, grilling, deep frying, and are defined by the lack of a water based cooking medium. Moist cooking methods, poaching and steaming, rely on water to do the cooking. Combination cooking, principally braising, employs both dry and moist cooking methods. In this class session, we will focus on sautéing.
The literal translation for sauté in French is "to jump" (from the verb, sauter). When sautéing items, chefs frequently make the contents in the pan "jump" by shaking the pan. (Chefs "toss" food instead of using a spatula or spoon because it is much faster, and in a busy kitchen, speed counts! ) Sautéing is best defined as "cooking in a small amount of hot fat in a shallow sided pan usually over high heat".
The proper sauté technique is as follows: First, heat the pan over a hot flame. Chefs insist that the pans are "smokin' hot". A less than hot pan is a common and serious mistake. If the pan is not very hot when something is initially placed in it, the pan will cool down rapidly and the item(s) will invariably stick to the pan.
Once the pan is hot, add a small amount of fat. Notice that the fat (butter, oil, etc.) is added to the hot pan just prior to adding the item to be sautéed. If the fat is added to a cold pan and allowed to heat up with the pan, the fat will burn by the time the pan is hot or the fat will not burn, but the pan will not be hot enough to properly sauté Once the fat is hot (it will only take a couple of moments), carefully place the item(s) to be sautéed. into the pan so that if the hot fat splatters it will splatter away from you! As soon as the contents are in the pan, shake the pan (or use a spoon or spatula) to move the contents. This will help keep the item(s) from sticking to the pan.
From this point on, how you finish the sautéing process depends on what ingredient(s) you are sautéing It is often necessary to reduce the heat while the item cooks. The thicker the item and the longer the cooking time, the sooner and more drastically you will need to reduce the heat. Knowing when and how much to reduce the heat is the art of properly sautéing This is where practice is essential. But the beginning of the sautéing process still remains the same--start with a hot pan and then reduce the heat, never the opposite. When sautéing a flat item, like a chicken breast or a steak, always put the side you will present on the plate in the hot fat first. This will expose the presentation side of the item to the hottest heat which will produce an attractive caramelized exterior.
Chefs have varying opinions of breading items to be sautéed. Some chefs frequently use breadings. Others rarely do. A breading can add crunch to the exterior of a sautéed. item and can also help keep it from sticking to the pan. One common breading is simply to dust the product with flour just prior to sautéing it. It is important to note that you should pat the product between your hands to remove all excess flour before putting it in the hot pan. Another common breading technique is called the standard breading procedure in which the item is first coated with flour, then beaten eggs, and finally breadcrumbs. There are many variations of this technique.
Another variation of sautéing is sweating. Sweating is sautéing at a low temperature so that the item does not color but still cooks through. The best example of this is the common phrase in recipes--"cook onions until translucent." It is still necessary to begin with a hot pan (although less hot than if you want to caramelize the exterior of an item) and then reduce the heat. It is important to stir the contents of the pan frequently.
That's all for this class session. Next class--grilling (just in time for the summer months!). Till then, keep cooking because only practice and a lot of mistakes makes perfect!