Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Way to a Perfect Saute

Last week we held a Bistro Night class down at The Kitchen Studio, mostly because I really like bistro food and was a bit inspired by Shab Row Bistro down on East St. here in Frederick.

The menu featured all the usual bistro culprits: moules (mussels), French Onion Soup, Chocolate Mousse (Julia's version, 'natch), and Steak Frites with duck fat fries.

As we worked through the menu we began to finish things up by finally getting some heat on our ribeyes. That's when I realized - people love to fiddle with their meat (no double entendre intentionally intended:). If you want to get a beautiful brown crust on whatever it is you're sauteing, you need to follow a few basic rules.

Rules for a Perfect Saute

  1. Dry Product. Your product (chef-speak for your protein typically, y'know, the meat) must be dry. That means blot it with a paper towel or do whatever you need to so that it's no longer damp or wet. If something wet hits the pan it will generate steam, and steamed food is never brown food.
  2. Hot pan. A really, really hot pan. And make sure it isn't a non-stick pan because the entire purpose of a non-stick pan is so that it doesn't stick, thus you'll never form a beautiful, brown crust (catching a theme here yet?)
  3. Fat in the pan. Get a bit of fat into your pan. If your pan is screaming hot, you have to be careful not to use a fat that will burn at a high heat, like butter or extra-virgin olive oil. I use a lot of veg oil for this purpose and sometimes throw in a knob of butter later for flavor.
  4. Don't fiddle. Once you place your product into the pan, don't move it around. This is the trickiest part, since most folks feel that if they're not pushing the meat around the pan, they're not really cooking. This is FALSE. As Alton Brown so famously (and correctly) said, "Food + Heat = Cooking". I take that to mean that if you've got the pan up in the air for whatever reason, it's off the heat. If you're pushing the meat around the pan, you're not allowing it to come into constant contact with the pan, forming that desirable crust. Got it?
  5. Let the product talk to you. If you have to yank and pull, whatever you're cooking isn't ready to be flipped. I have, on occasion, felt like I need to put a foot on the pan and yank in order to get it to release a chicken breast. Unh uh. This is where your moment of Zen Cooking comes into play - the meat will tell you when it's ready. When the meat releases itself, it's ready to go, not before.
If you've done it right, you'll have all of the tasty bits in the bottom of the pan, called fond. Add a bit of wine, a little broth, maybe some shallots and scrape those bad boys up. You've just made a perfect sauce to go with your perfectly sauteed steak/fish/chicken.

Now go forth and saute something. And oh, don't forget about turning on your vent, cause it's gonna get smoky. :)


Karen said...

Thank you for the tips. I have had to learn to cook this way since we moved to a condo and can't have a grill. I use my grandmother's cast iron skillet, which is old and beautifully seasoned. I do confess to setting the smoke alarms off on several occasions :)

Chef Christine said...

Setting off the smoke detector is an indicator that you're doing things right ;)

I seriously need a cast iron skillet. Can't believe I don't have one. They may even take away my cook card if I don't remedy that soon!