Choosing a Saute Pan

Choosing a Saute Pan

A new cook often spend a lot of energy and money trying to find just the right sauté pan. In fact, it is possible to make perfect sautéed dishes in any old pan. It just easier if the pan is of better quality. Whenever possible, sauté in a pan just large enough to hold the food in a single layer, but not so large that it's difficult to handle. If the pan is too large, the juices released by the sautéing foods may run out to the edges of the pan and burn. If the pan is too small, the foods will be crowded and will steam in their juices instead of brown.

  • The most important quality to look for in a pan is that it is heavy-bottomed, so that the heat will be evenly distributed over its surface. If the pan is thin, the patch directly over the heat will get much hotter than the rest of the pan, and foods in that spot will burn while foods in the rest of the pan cook too slowly.

  • Use a pan with sloping sides to toss foods such as sliced vegetables, scallops or small pieces of meat. The sloped sides help toss the food back onto itself.

  • Use a pan with straight sides for sautéing larger pieces of seafood, poultry, meat and vegetables that are turned with tongs rather than tossed. A straight-sided pan is also best when you'll be deglazing the pan for a sauce. Otherwise, the sauce might stick to the sloping sides of the pan and burn as it reduces. If you're making a deglazed sauce, it is best to choose a pan with a light rather than dark surface such as aluminum, tin or stainless steel so that you can see if the juices have burned before you deglaze. Straight-sided pans with lids are also perfect for dishes such as fricassees, when sautéing is only the first step in a two-stage process and liquid will be added after the food is sautéed

  • High-quality nonstick pans make the easiest work of sautéing, but well-made, heavy-bottomed nonstick pans are expensive. A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet makes a good substitute but some cooks find them too heavy, especially for foods that need to be tossed. The French iron skillets called poeles are somewhat lighter and have sloping sides for tossing.

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