Friday, September 11, 2009

How to Saute or Jitterbug...Jitterbug...Jitterbug

But am I ready to be a father figure?

Few musicians have captured the attention of the world quite as completely as George Michael. He just jitterbugged his way right into our hearts in the 80's and never left. So what in the world does George Michael have to do with cooking? EVERYTHING! DON'T YOU EVER QUESTION THE COOKER! is a bit of a stretch. However, that does not make either subject any less important.

Just like dancing, being able to properly saute is a skill that should be learned and developed. It is one of the most common ways to cook things and always adds panache to a description. Which sounds better; sweated onions and bell peppers or sauteed onions and bell peppers? Exactly. Sweated onions sounds like the fat guy at the beach that is sweating bullets because he is eating.

Mmm, that sounds good. I'll have that

This post is dedicated to Saute, the verb. This post will show some basic steps in sauteing and will even have a side dish sneaked into it. Look to sauteing when you want to deepen then flavor of something by browning it. Sauteing is normally reserved for things that can be cooked quickly and hold onto their shape pretty well. This is why shrimps and veggies are typically sauteed and potatoes and soup are typically not.

The important part here is that when you are doing some sauteing you want the food to be dancing or jitterbugging around the pan. If the pan is too cold you will sweat your veggies instead and this neither the time nor the place. So your pan must be good and hot, around medium for most people's stoves and pans. You must also be using some sort of fat that can handle higher temperatures, so only use butter if you have clarified it first. Also, sauteing is about getting some color on the food that you are cooking. You should be browning the food, if there is not enough heat to brown it then you need to crank it. With that in mind let us begin.

Grab yourself a pan. Either of these would work just fine. The one on the right is a proper saute pan but the cooker was feeling sassy so the fry pan was used, plus the saute pan was being used for something else. Whichever you choose, try to pick one that is big enough for the job at hand. If that pan is too small and you start crowding it you will have to work in batches so that you do not sweat. Anyways, go ahead and start letting it heat up while you start prepping the items to be sauteed.

These are the guys that will be getting cut up and then sauteed. It will make a lovely side dish for whatever else you might be having in the late summer time.

Here they are after being cut up. The squashes were cut using what we will call for the time being, the carrot method, and the onions were cut up in the non dice version here. And then there is the garlic which is going to get its own post some day, cuz damn it tasty.

So you heat the pan and then pour your preferred fat in there and let it heat. You know it is ready when it slides easily back and forth across the pan. It is too hot if the oil is smoking or your kitchen is on fire. When it has reached the specified oil temperature, add the cut onions. Okay, and when you add the onions, don't be an idiot. Be careful. Add them close to the pan so that you do not splash the oil everywhere and look like this. You should hear a nice sizzle, if you do not your oil is not hot enough. Crank it up a little until you hear a good sizzle. Oh and add some salt at this point.

Keep the onions moving fairly regularly so that they brown but do not burn. They should look something like those above. if not you better crank it up a little or let them sit a little longer between moves. Next add your squash again without being an idiot. Add a touch of salt and keep that stuff moving regularly. Oh and remember to not crowd the pan. Crowding the pan will drop the heat of the pan and you will start sweating instead of sauteing.

Time for the big toss. Tilt the pan down and let the food slide towards that edge.

Then flick your wrist up while pulling back to throw the food into the air while also launching it backwards. This is no time for cowardice. This is no time to be timid. You gotta go for it. if you do not, nothing will happen and you will just coat your backsplash with squashy bits.

If you have acted with bravery and all has gone to plan, the pan will catch the food as it falls back to the earth. Does this a few times to mix everything up nicely. Oh, if you would like practice, try with a cold pan and some uncooked rice. Start with tiny tosses and move your way up. Toss that around a couple times and then add your garlic. Keep it moving until everything has some color. Then slide it onto a dish and you are ready.

That is the finished side over there on the right side. The Cooker did not get a great shot of the squash on its on so you get a sauteed dish in entirety. The mushroom thing and the chicken will follow, calm down.

To summarize.
  • You need a pan that gets hot.
  • You need a fat of some sort that can handle some heat.
  • You need to hear a sizzle.
  • You need to do some browning. Color is the goal.
  • Do not overcrowd the pan as this will lead to uneven cooking and sweating. Not the goal.
  • You need to choose items that cook rather quickly and hold their shape.
  • You must not be timid. The meek might inherit the earth but they will be making piss poor saute the whole time. This is why strong adjectives and verbs describe cooks. Galloping Gourmet, not shuffling. Iron Chef, not putty. Wham, not tickle.
  • You must then make it happen in your tum tum.
Questions? Need more elaboration? You better axe somebody.


  1. SO much kudos to you for quoting Dumb and Dumber underneath the fat guy pic.

    also LOVIN' the wrist-flicking pix!!!!!!! this blog makes me hungry for moooore

  2. Thank you for linking to my favorite Zoolander scene. Remember though, the work of George Michael is best captured in house painting, not cooking. Overall a great post! Very informative.

  3. Very informative indeed! And I always enjoy a good George Michael reference (or 12).