How to Sauté Things and Not Die
I would like to say I’ve been busy doing impressive and important things this week, but really the only things I’ve accomplished since posting on Tuesday were a minimal amount of homework and a whole lot of meme stalking, specifically Hipster Ariel. It was good fun, but it really has nothing to do with the topic at hand—that topic being a quality sauté technique.
Much like boiling food, sautéing depends greatly on what you picked up in science class. Here are the essentials.
1. Whatever you’re cooking needs to be the same size. This means all animals, vegetables, and minerals (if that’s your thing) need to be cut to an even surface area in order for them to cook at the same rate and to the same texture, color, and flavor.
2. The more flavor you want from something, the smaller it should be chopped. This tip is for garlic, ginger and other vegetables that add flavor to the entire dish. By chopping the vegetables into tiny pieces, you increase the surface area that the flavor molecules can diffuse through, thus increasing flavor.
3. A good sauté occurs at a heat slightly above 212°F. If you remember from Tuesday’s post, water evaporates at a temperature of 212°F. We can use this fact to our advantage. Simply flick a few drops of water on a pan to check if it’s hot, and when the drops evaporate quickly, you can add your sautéing fat.
4. When adding fat to the pan, always allow it to sit for a minute or two to heat up to an even temperature. However, if you are incompetent, easily distracted, or possibly Dr. Who, you may accidentally leave the pan (and the fat in it) to sit for an obscene amount of time. If that happens, it is crucial that you DO NOT use the oil that’s been sitting in the pan. It is ruined forever. The oil has reached and passed its smoking point, which means the fat has broken down, degraded, and smoked off. The broken-down oil will impart a carcinogenic flavor to anything you try to cook in it, so it’s better that you don’t try to.
5. Never add wet things to a pan with oil in them. Oil and water don’t mix and you will set off a mini-explosion. Always pat food dry before sautéing.
There are two sauté categories: flora and fauna.
When I say flora, I’m just adding zest to my article with synonyms. I really mean vegetables. Vegetable sautéing involves the same techniques described above, but remember to add harder vegetables to the pan first, as they will take longer to cook. Also, stir and flip the vegetables often enough that they won’t get burned or stick to the pan. Other than that, the vegetables take care of themselves.
Cooking meat takes slightly more finesse than cooking vegetables. Because meats are often irregularly shaped lumps, they will cook through differently. Instead of constantly stirring and flipping meats, you must let them sit without being disturbed until the side on the pan has browned. Browned meats vary in color, from a light caramel color for poultry, to a chocolate color for red meats.
I think that’s enough of a lesson for today, especially seeing as I have to study for a chemistry exam that is both tomorrow and worth twenty-two percent of my final grade.
Good luck, Shivani! When you get back, will you make us a stir-fry?
Related posts: Cooking With Shivani