Sauté comes from the French word for “jump” and it’s a way to cook small pieces of food by turning them quickly in a hot pan. This technique can also be used for larger pieces of food, like pork chops, that are turned only once to encourage browning.

For best results, use a sauté pan that is heavy for its size, is sturdy and is made of a quality metal so it will heat evenly. Choose a neutral-flavored cooking oil that can withstand the medium-high to high cooking temperatures needed to achieve the deep, golden brown color that sautéing imparts to food.

Tips for successful sautéing

  • Pat foods dry: Soak up the moisture on the foods’ surface with paper towels. A dry surface will promote browning.
  • Preheat the pan: Once the pan is hot, add the oil and heat it for a few seconds before adding the food.
  • Do not crowd: Crowding food will create steam and inhibit browning. Use a pan that is large enough to hold the ingredients in a single layer, or cook the food in batches.
  • Resist the urge to move the food: When cooking meat or poultry, don’t turn it until it is browned on the underside. If the food seems stuck to the pan, it usually means the food is not ready to be flipped.

How to Sauté

Heat the pan
You’ll feel the heat radiating up when it’s hot enough to start cooking.

Swirl in the oil
When you see the surface of the oil shimmer, you’re good to go.

Add the food
Leave the food undisturbed for a few seconds to encourage caramelization.

Stir and toss
When you see browning, stir and toss with a wooden spoon or tongs. Repeat every few seconds to encourage even cooking.

If you’re making a pan sauce, add broth or wine and scrape up the delicious browned bits that stick to the pan bottom.

Reduce and finish
To finish a pan sauce, vigorously simmer the liquid until it is a sauce consistency. Stir in butter or mustard to thicken the sauce.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cook Good Food (Weldon Owen, 2014).