Need dinner on the double? Quick-cook vegetables, meat, or fish until golden by sautéeing in a small amount of fat. This cooking method is simple (and fast) enough for busy weeknights, with really tasty results.

By Wini Moranville
Updated May 29, 2020
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What does sauté mean? The word is culinary speak for browning or cooking a food quickly over fairly high heat using a small amount of fat in a wide, shallow pan. The word “sauté” comes from the French word sauter which means "to jump." Imagine a toque-capped (a toque is that classic puffy white hat worn by chefs) chef shaking a pan of veggies back and forth while making the food jump in the air, and you get the idea. Fortunately, you can get the same jumpy, no-stick effect simply by stirring the food with a spatula or flipping it with tongs. Best of all, no matter how you choose to sauter, dinner will be done soon, sautéing is one of the quickest cooking methods around. Here's everything to know about how to sauter comme un chef de cuisine! (How to sauté like a chef, that is! And we're done with today's vocab lesson.)

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What Is a Sauté Pan

How to Sauté Vegetables

  • Choose the right size sauté pan: The pan should be able to hold the food in one layer. If the pan is too small, the food will steam instead of brown.
  • Prep the veggies: Wash veggies and pat them dry. If possible, cut the vegetables into uniform-size pieces so that they will cook evenly. Note: Mushrooms require their own style of prep. Find out how to trim and wash mushrooms for sautéing.
  • Heat the sauté pan: Lightly coat your sauté pan with 2 to 3 teaspoons oil, such as cooking oil or olive oil. Or you can spray the unheated pan with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat the pan over medium-high heat until hot.
  • Add the vegetables: Carefully add the veggies and reduce the heat to medium. Do not add liquid and do not cover the pan. Stir the food with a spatula ($14, Sur la Table) or wooden spoon ($10, Williams Sonoma), 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.
  • Cook until crisp-tender: The sautéed vegetables should be just tender but still somewhat crunchy. At this stage, a fork can be inserted with a little pressure.

How to Sauté Meat and Poultry

  • Choose the right-size sauté pan: Be sure the food can easily fit in the pan in one layer without overcrowding.
  • Heat the sauté pan:
    • For meat: Lightly coat the unheated sauté pan with nonstick cooking spray or use a heavy nonstick sauté pan. Preheat the pan over medium-high heat until very hot.
    • For chicken: Lightly coat the sauté pan with 2 to 3 teaspoons oil, such as cooking oil or olive oil. Or you can spray the unheated pan with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat the sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot.
  • Cook Until Done: Add the meat or poultry to the sauté pan. Do not add any liquid and do not cover the skillet. Reduce heat to medium; cook until done as determined by a meat thermometer ($15, The Home Depot), turning the poultry or meat occasionally. If the food browns too quickly, reduce the heat to medium-low. Use these as guidelines for minimum internal meat temperatures: Chicken 165°F, pork chops 145°F, beef 145°F for steaks and 160°F for ground, lamb 160°F, veal chops 145°F.
  • Let Meat Stand: Tent the meat with foil and let it stand 5 minutes (for beef steaks and lamb and veal chops) or 3 minutes (for pork chops).
  • Make a Pan Sauce: This is entirely optional, but once you’re done sautéing meat or chicken, you’re already well on your way to making a great pan sauce to go with it! Find out how to make a pan sauce for sautéed chicken or steaks using those tasty browned bits left in the pan.

Comments (1)

July 25, 2018
I'm making riced cauliflower and other suggestions are to cover the pan. Who knows.