Q: Can you tell me the proper way to sauté? I often hear the term and am not sure how to do this in a low-fat way. I am specifically interested in how to sauté chicken breasts
A: Sautéing is a classical French cooking technique. It is the cornerstone of a la carte cookery for most restaurant chefs. Technically, to sauté is to cook a portioned food in clarified butter or oil, using asauteuse (a shallow frypan with sloping sides) or asautoir (a shallow frypan with straight sides) over strong heat. It requires talent and dexterity to make the food sauté, or jump, ensuring that it cooks evenly and doesn’t stick.
This cooking method remained the same over the last century, but started evolving during the healthy living trend of the 80s and 90s. The three innovations that effected the most change in sautéing are the no-stick frypan, no-stick cooking spray and the spontaneous realization that you can sauté with liquids other than fat.
To sauté a boneless, skinless chicken breast, start with a 12-inch no-stick frypan and a lid. Rinse the chicken in cold water and dry. Then spray the pan lightly with no-stick olive oil spray and place the pan over medium-high heat. Flatten the chicken breast to a half-inch thickness with the palm of your hand, or, depending on your recipe, cut the breast crosswise into 3/4-inch slices and flatten the medallions slightly with your hand. (Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water.) Dust the breast or medallions with your favorite, salt-free seasoning mix.
Place the chicken flat in the hot pan and brown for two minutes without disturbing the chicken. Then, let the shaking begin! Move the pan front to back over the burner and, at the same time, tilt the pan to flip the chicken for even cooking on both sides. The shaking need not be continuous — there is not a “whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on” when it comes to sautéing in the home kitchen! Professional chefs, however, need to keep the food moving because they cook over a much hotter restaurant stove. You can even let the chicken rest for a bit to develop some brown color. I like to finish off a sautéed chicken with a splash of rich broth.
Once you’ve got some nice even color on both sides of the chicken, pour a 1/2 cup of rich broth into the hot pan. Don’t overdo the amount of broth; you want sizzle and steam, not boiling or poaching. Shake the pan and continue cooking two to three minutes over medium-high heat. The hot broth will turn into a sauce by “deglazing” the flavor in the pan and concentrating the flavors. The total cooking process should take 8 to 10 minutes. Be sure to check the chicken with a paring knife to ensure that it’s fully cooked before you serve it.
After you master the sauté technique with chicken breast, gradually try other foods. Shrimp, turkey cutlets, pork tenderloin and salmon fillets are excellent candidates, as are all manner of vegetables.