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To sauté is to cook or brown food on a high heat in butter or oil, or a mixture of the two.
From the French word 'to jump'; brisk cooking in a small amount of fat in a shallow frying pan, shaking the pan to make sure the pieces being fried are evenly browned. The food is either just browned or cooked through. The pan must be preheated and the frying medium sizzling before the food is put in. The saute must then proceed quickly until the process is finished. A good heat and speed is the essence of sauteing.
Sautéing is a method of cooking food using a small amount of fat in a shallow pan over relatively high heat. Sauter means "to jump," in French, and the food being sautéed is kept moving, not unlike the stir fry technique using a wok.
Food that is sautéed is usually cooked for relatively short periods of time in order to preserve its color, moisture and flavor. This is very common with tenderloin meats, like Filet Mignon. Sautéing differs from searing in that the sautéed food is thoroughly cooked in the process. One may sear simply to seal the outside of a food before another process is used to finish cooking it.
Olive oil or clarified butter are commonly used for sautéing. Regular butter is less well suited for sautéing because it will burn at a lower temperature.
It is important to ensure that the pan is very hot and that the food is not crowded into the pan. This ensures that the food browns well without absorbing the fat or stewing in its own juices. Furthermore, the food must be completely dry, again in order to avoid stewing it. This is particularly important in the case of food that has been marinated.
Another method to sautéing which prevents stewing is not moving the pan until the contents have been browned up.