If you learn a few basics, like sautéing, you can make a variety of soups and sauces. The French word actually means, “to jump” and is a very useful method to learn if you want to take your cooking from good to great! This technique is carried out by cooking food quickly in a hot pan and using a small amount of fat. It is important though not to use too much fat or you will go from sautéing to frying your foods. When properly executed, sautéing does not dry out the food but actually leaves some pieces called “fond” into the pan. These “leftovers” have a wonderful caramelized flavor that you can use to create a wonderful yet simple reduction sauce.
First, lets discuss what foods are good to be sautéed. The best foods must be tender, thin, and portion or bite-sized. Many types of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish are appropriate for sautéing. To prepare thick or dense meats for sautéing, simply slice them thinly before cooking for bite-sized pieces or pound them thin (with a meat mallet or back side of a frying pan) for portion sized pieces. Vegetables, fruits, precooked grains, pasta, beans and other legumes are also candidates for sautéing. Thin, tender items like snow peas, apples and mushrooms may go right into the sauté pan. Thicker, denser items such as carrots and broccoli should be par-boiled before hand.
Sometimes the easiest dinner to create is one that you throw together with the ingredients you have just laying around your kitchen; this was one of those delicious discoveries.
Now to begin the cooking. Have all of your ingredients prepared and ready to go, it is also important that everything be approximately the same size so it all cooks evenly. Always preheat your pan and then add the oil/butter, this way you avoid have hot spots. You’ll know it is ready when you can splash a few drops of water into the pan and watch them dance across and evaporate. Let the fat melt just until it has a shimmer but before it begins smoking, remove it from the heat for a few moments if it smokes. Add your ingredients to the pan and let them sit so they turn golden brown. For meats, this is usually about 3 minutes, for fish this about 2 minutes. After this time, flip them over in the pan and repeat the process, using a spatula or tongs. DO NOT use a fork, as it pierces the meat and releases all the juices.
Next, you want to deglaze your pan for optimum flavor in making a sauce. Sounds extravagant, but it really isn’t. There’s an added benefit to doing this too, you’ll have a pan so clean that with one wipe of the sponge you’ll be done! Remove your meat or other protein (if using veggies, just leave in pan) and place somewhere to keep warm, like your oven. If there is a lot of fat in the pan remaining, remove all but a tablespoon or two. Add 1 teaspoon of seasoning (of choice) and turn the heat to high adding about ¼ cup of white wine (red wine or stocks work too and sometimes I even use beer or fruit juices). Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the stuff up from the bottom of the pan and let it dissolve in the liquid. The liquids will reduce fairly quickly, so go ahead and lower the heat. From here you can simply pour the sauce over your meat and serve, add more veggies and/or aromatics (like garlic or shallots), add more stock for a soup, or add some butter, dairy, or cheese for a richer sauce.
For my pasta recipe, I simply sautéed some mushroom heads and zucchini slices. I added some white wine, a few drops of cream, and some parmesan cheese with a little salt, black pepper, red pepper, and dried basil. It was really fantastic!