As a culinary term,
the word sauté
derives from the French word, sautier
, literally meaning to jump
, and involves adding small pieces of food to a minimal amount of heated oil or fat and tossing them to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The idea is to give it a slight char
on its outer surfaces, but avoid overcooking the inside.
A wide, shallow pan is recommended, (a well-made sauté pan is a good investment) and whether using oil, butter or fat for cooking, these should be used sparingly. Oils and fats tend to expand as they heat, so use less than you think you will need if you’re new to sautéing. The oil should also be thoroughly heated -- though not to the point of smoking -- before the ingredients are added, not after. The hot oil seals the outer surfaces of the food and prevents it from seeping liquid, cooking in its own juices, and becoming soggy.
If too many items are added to the pan at once the temperature will drop and the end result will be a soggy mass. So, if you want to cook a lot of ingredients, use more than one pan or cook the food in batches. If you are cooking meat, you may want to try dusting it with a little flour to prevent it from sticking.
Note: If you deglaze the pan, you can make a very nice sauce.
Sources: Adapted from “Le Cordon Bleu: Professional Cooking” and larousse Gastronomique as well as my own experience.