Sautéing is a high-heat cooking method
that concentrates and enhances the flavor of vegetables by evaporating
their water and caramelizing them so that they are savory and flavorful on
the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. The fat you use - butter,
oil or rendered animal fat - adds additional flavor.
Small vegetables or vegetable slices
and pieces are sautéed by tossing in a wide pan with sloping sides.
Tossing is better than stirring because it's gentler and even delicate
stirring can crush some vegetables as they cook. Tossing can be
intimidating at first, but with a little experience (tossing dried beans
is good practice), it becomes second nature and is easier than stirring.
Vegetable pieces that are too large to toss - such as potatoes, long
slices of zucchini or eggplant - are sautéed in a single layer until
browned, then turned with a pair of tongs or a spatula. Watery vegetables
such as sliced tomatoes may also be coated with flour or a breading
mixture before sautéing. The coating absorbs the moisture given off by the
vegetable as it cooks and helps it brown; it also adds flavor and keeps
the vegetable from absorbing fat.