Sweet, Sweet Sunday

How to Saute Your Meats and Vegetables

What is Sauteeing?…Sautéing uses relatively high, dry heat and motion to quickly brown meats and vegetables in a small amount of far.

Sautéing also gives food a lot of flavor in a short amount of time.

As far as meat, sautéing is a great way to cook meat because this method not only tenderizes the meat, but also takes advantage of the Maillard reaction, which is the caramelization of the sugars in food. Often this is done before continuing to cook the meat by another cooking method.

As far as veggies, sauteing is also a great way to cook veggies because this method brings out the true flavors of the food, produces a flavorful exterior with the best possible texture and color, and maintains the original flavor and texture of the veggies.

Sauteeing is very similar to two more cooking methods that we will be looking at—stir-frying and pan-frying. All three of these methods involve cooking food quickly in a small amount of fat.

However, stir-frying foods involves keeping the food in constant motion instead of letting the food rest at times during the cooking and requires higher heat….and pan-frying involves no tossing of your food, uses slightly more fat, and requires slightly lower temperatures.

So which foods can be sautéed, and which foods shouldn’t?…Virtually all foods can be sautéed, but since this is a quick cooking method, the food must be small and tender enough so that the center is done by the time the outside has browned.

This method works best with foods that are sliced thin so that they cook thoroughly without a lot of heat.

Since this is such a rapid technique, it does not offer the same tenderizing effect as some of other methods. For this reason, any food that you are going to sautee must be naturally tender.

Meat…As far as meat, sauteeing should only be used to cook the most tender cuts, those meats without a lot of tough connective tissue. If you try to sautée tough cuts of meat—such as a lamb shank or brisket—they will become even tougher because it is a dry heat method. These meats are much better suited for braising and other cooking methods that require a longer cooking time.

If you’re cooking a single serving of meat—such as a fish filet or pork chop, let the food develop the color and crust you want on one side before turning it over.

For chicken breasts or single-serving pieces of meat or fish, cook one side until golden brown, then flip over to brown the other side. This quick sear helps the food retain its natural juices.

  • Chicken…about 10min…until no longer pink and internal temperature is 170 degrees
  • Fish…about min…until golden and fish begins to flake when tested with a fork
  • Pork Chops…about 10min…to “medium” or 160
  • Steak: Cook until desired doneness—145 degrees for medium rare, 160 degrees for medium

Veggies…As far as veggies, any vegetable can be sautéed, but more tender vegetables—such as asparagus, baby artichokes, bell peppers, green beans, mushrooms, onions, peppers, sugar snap peas, and zucchini—are the best ones to choose.

Saute the veggies until they are al dente, meaning crisp-tender or almost “undercooked.” The veggies will continue to cooking even after you take them off the heat.

If you are going to be cooking several different vegetables together, start with those that will need a longer cooking times, and then add those that require shorter cooking times toward the end.

Overcrowding…Regardless if you are cooking veggies or meat, or a combination of the two. avoid overcrowding your skillet. Overcrowding your skillet will lower the heat of your skillet, and increase the chances that your food will be mushy and limp.

Your ingredients need enough space to move around, and any steam that is released as you cook needs enough room to escape, instead of staying in the pan in order for your food to brown, instead of steam.

Tossing and turning…You must keep the food moving as you sauté. This will make sure that your food cooks evenly keep the pan hot, and avoid food sticking to your skillet.

So often we see trained chefs on television shows, such as Iron Chef, holding the handle of the sauté pan firmly and then using a sharp elbow motion to quickly move the pan around….

And they make it look so easy. I am a normal home cook though, and my tossing and turning will never be quite the same as theirs…kinda like my pizza tossing skills…

So instead of even trying this at home, I use a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to move the food around.

Just stir the food in a circular direction around the heating source. Wait a a few seconds, and then stir again.

Here are a few more things to remember…

  • Cook only one layer of food cooks in your pan at a time.
  • Do not press down on your meats and veggies while you are cooking them in order to get them brown. If your pan is hot enough and contains enough fat, doing this will only rob them of both moisture and taste.
  • If you are cooking a lot of food, cook the food in batches instead.
  • If you are cooking meat, have at least 1/2″ between each piece of meat.
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