This is a cooking term that means to brown or cook a food quickly over fairly high heat using a small amount of fat in an open, shallow pan. The word comes from the French word "sauter," which means "to jump." Traditionally when sauteing, the cook shakes the pan, making the food jump, to keep the food from sticking and ensure it cooks on all sides. This can also be done by stirring.
Saute pan: While a frying pan will work for sauteing, there is a special saute pan that has a long handle and gently flared or straight sides that are slightly taller than those of a frying pan. The taller sides allow shaking or stirring the food easily without it spilling out of the pan. While saute pans come in a variety of materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, and enameled cast iron, the key is to select a sturdy, heavy pan that will cook evenly. Saute pans often come with lids since some foods, such as larger pieces of meat, benefit by finishing the cooking process covered.
You can saute meat, fish, vegetables, and even fruits such as apple or pear slices. When possible, cut the food in uniform-size pieces so it will cook evenly.
Choose the right size pan for the amount of food you are cooking. If the pan is too small, the food will steam instead of brown. Lightly coat the pan with 2 to 3 teaspoons oil, such as cooking oil or olive oil, or add butter. Or you can spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat the pan over medium-high heat until hot.
Tip: Butter adds a nutty, rich flavor, but the drawback for sauteing is that it burns more quickly than cooking oil or olive oil at higher temperatures. If using butter, watch it carefully and lower the heat if needed. You can also combine butter with cooking oil or olive oil, which allows cooking at a higher heat than butter alone.
Carefully add the food and reduce the heat to medium. Do not add liquid and do not cover the pan. Stir the food with a spatula or wooden spoon, or use the pan's long handle to shake the pan in a back-and-forth motion, making sure the food is coated with the fat and cooks evenly without scorching.
Tip: For chicken breasts or single-serving pieces of meat or fish, cook one side until golden brown, then flip over to brown the other side. This quick sear helps the food retain its natural juices.
Vegetables: For most, saute until crisp-tender.
Fish: Saute until golden and fish begins to flake when tested with a fork (figure 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness)
Skinless, boneless chicken breast halves: Saute until no longer pink and internal temperature is 170 degrees F (about 8 to 12 minutes)
Steak: Cook until desired doneness; 145 degrees F for medium rare to 160 degrees F for medium
Pork chop (bone-in or boneless): Cook to medium or 160 degrees F (8 to 12 minutes)
When cooking chicken or meat pieces, consider making a pan sauce once the pieces are cooked. Transfer the pieces to a platter and cover to keep warm. Add a liquid, such as wine or both, and desired seasonings to the hot pan. Cook and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to boiling and boil gently until the sauce is reduced to the desired consistency. If desired, to further flavor and thicken the sauce, stir in a couple tablespoons of whipping cream and/or butter, stirring after each addition.