Olive oil is a versatile ingredient in the kitchen – wonderful in almost any technique. However, it’s most common use is for sautéing. Sautéing is a cooking method where a small amount of fat, in this case olive oil, is applied to a shallow pan (uncovered) over high heat for a brief amount of time. The contact with heat allows the vegetable or protein to brown or caramelize without changing its texture completely. California extra virgin olive oil has an excellent flavor that transfers to the dish during sautéing without overpowering the natural flavors.
Prep your ingredients
Larger pieces of protein or vegetables are usually cut into small pieces, or aromatics like garlic or onion are typically diced or minced. All ingredients must be dry. Meat, fish or vegetables will naturally release moisture so it is important that they start as dry as possible.
Heat the pan
All fats have a smoke point – the point at which the fat breaks down, the flavor is compromised, and it begins to produce smoke. Olive oil has a higher smoke point than butter, but it’s lower than seed oils. It is important not to add the olive oil to the pan while it’s heating, or else you run the risk of burning it. The pan should be hot: medium high heat is a good setting for most stoves when using olive oil.
Add the olive oil to the pan
Add a small amount of oil enough to lubricate the pans surface, but not to drown the food. In a few moments, it should start shimmering and you can see movement in the surface of the oil. This is the best moment to add your ingredients. If the pan starts smoking, simply remove from heat, pour off burnt oil, wipe the pan and start again. The taste of burnt oil will transfer to your food otherwise.
Add your ingredients to the pan
Good practice to not overcrowd your pan. Hopefully your pan is large enough, or work in batches. Overcrowding the ingredients leads to uneven cooking or the ingredients, as they release moisture, will steam each other – which lacks the golden brown crust of a good sauté.
Sauté literally means “Jump” in French. Tossing and flipping the food ensures that it cooks evenly in the short time, but also it keeps the pan hot.
Finish the dish
You can add a sauce, seasoning or glaze at the end of sautéing. If not, remove the pan from heat.