Sauteing, also referred to as pan-frying, is the quickest and easiest way to put together a meal. Sauteing is little more than cooking food in a hot pan, usually with a little fat (butter or oil) to prevent sticking. Sauteing imparts a crispy texture to foods and brings out all sorts of flavors from herbs and spices.
Butter / Oil for Sauteing
When you saute something, even in a nonstick pan, you need to use some kind of fat - butter or oil. Each is best suited for different kinds of sauteing:
When cooking over very high heat, use oil, which is less likely to burn.
When sauteing with medium-high heat, you may opt for butter, which adds a nice flavor. However, the milk solids in the butter can burn, or brown, affecting the color and taste of your food.
You can prevent butter from burning in a saute pan by adding a few drops of vegetable oil.
If you decide to use oil in your sauteing, it is helpful to know that some oils have a higher smoke point than others, which means they start to smoke at a hotter temperature (and so are preferable for sauteing). Good oils for sauteing include canola, corn, and peanut oil.
Oil alone should be hot but not smoking in the pan before you add food. Butter alone should foam at its edges but not brown.
When sauteing in oil, use a minimal amount of oil. The steam created from the hot oil in the pan helps to cook the food inside while the outsides brown. Without the presence of steam, pan-fried foods would taste greasy and be soggy rather than crispy. Care must be taken to keep the cooking oil hot enough.
Vegetables are excellent when blanched or steamed until about 90 percent done and then transferred to be finished by sauteing in butter and fresh herbs.
Be very careful when you put rinsed vegetables (or other foods) into a pan of hot fat. The water that clings to the vegetables makes the fat splatter, which can cause serious burns. Always dry vegetables before sauteing.