When summer offers no let-up in the heat and your family just can't face another cold salad or grilled chicken breast or salmon fillet, sauteing becomes the cook's best friend.
It doesn't matter whether we use its western French moniker or lend it an Asian flare by referring to it as stir-frying, because it all amounts to the same thing: a lightning quick way to get a warm supper on the table with a minimum of heat buildup in the kitchen.
Yes, the heat for this simple technique must be lively to be effective, but the time we spend over that heat is brief. For most dishes, it's less than five minutes.
And while there's often a good deal of back-prep, that part's done before you get anywhere near the stove so you can stay relaxed and cool right up to that brief moment when you have to face the heat.
It's all in the name
Before we get into the recipes, a quick word on kitchen semantics. The word saute in our country is often used to mean lightly fry, but that's actually not correct. The word comes from the French verb sauter, which literally means to jump, and in a proper saute, that's exactly what happens. The food is constantly being made to jump in the pan by tossing it, either by flipping the pan or by using a spoon or spatula. The better translation for saute into English culinary terms would be stir-fry, since it's the same technique.
A Quick Saute of Beef (Master Recipe)
This same technique can be adapted to other red meats such as lamb, pork, veal or venison or even boned chicken or turkey. Notes for each are included at the end of the recipe. You may also enrich any of them with half a pound of quartered mushrooms or whole small onions sauteed in butter (or a mixture of both).
2 pounds trimmed beef tenderloin or sirloin cut in 11/2-inch cubes
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup minced shallot (about 1 medium)
1 cup dry white vermouth
1 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon heavy cream, optional
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1. Wrap beef in several layers of paper towel and press dry. Unwrap and season well with salt and pepper. Heat oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a large frying pan or skillet over medium high heat. Add beef and saute, turning often, until well-browned on all sides, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan and spread on a platter or large plate.
2. Add shallot to pan and toss until golden. Pour in wine, stirring and scraping bottom of pan to loosen cooking residue. Let reduce slightly then add broth, bring to boil and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 4 to 6 minutes.
3. Return beef to pan along with any accumulated juice from plate. Bring back to a simmer and simmer until just heated through and meat is done to taste. Stir in cream, if using (cream helps stabilize butter liaison). Turn off heat. Swirl in parsley and remaining butter in bits until incorporated and sauce is thick. Serve immediately.
Substituting lamb (use meat from leg), pork loin or tenderloin, or veal loin or round: cut meat same size as beef. For lamb, add 1 tablespoon fresh herbs before deglazing pan with wine in step 2: chopped rosemary or whole thyme leaves for lamb; chopped marjoram, rosemary, or sage for pork; any of them for veal. Pork should be cooked at least to medium (just pink at center).
Substituting boned chicken or turkey breast or thighs: cut in 1-inch chunks. Substitute chicken broth for beef broth. Add 1 tablespoon fresh herbs (whole thyme leaves or chopped marjoram, oregano, rosemary, or sage) before deglazing with wine in step 2. Poultry should be cooked completely through.
Ham Lo Mein
Don't limit yourself to ham with this: you can use it to rejuvenate leftover roast beef, lamb, pork, or poultry. It's also great with fresh meat or poultry or medium shrimp (peeled and cut in half lengthwise): just saute them long enough for them to cook through.
Shredding in Chinese cookery is essentially the same as French julienne. Cut the food into 2-inch-long pieces, thinly slice them, and then cut each slice into thin strips.
Find Chinese noodles in Asian markets and sometimes in the International food section of supermarkets. Though not quite the same, thin spaghetti can be substituted. Dried noodles are specified here, but you may also find fresh and precooked noodles. Cook dried and fresh ones just like Italian pasta. Simply drop precooked noodles into hot water until they soften and separate. Unlike Italian pasta, cooked Chinese noodles are rinsed well before using.
4-6 dried Chinese black mushrooms (dried shiitake)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine (not sake) or dry sherry
10 ounces dried Chinese noodles or thin spaghetti
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh gingerroot
1 cup shredded ham (see notes above)
Â½ cup shredded scallions (see notes above)
1 cup shredded carrots (see notes above)
1 cup trimmed and shredded snow peas (see notes above)
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1. Bring 1 cup water to boil and pour over mushrooms. Let soak until softened, about 15 minutes. Lift from soaking liquid, squeezing dry over bowl, and shred (see notes above). Reserve the soaking liquid and mix into it 1 tablespoon soy sauce and rice wine.
2. Bring 3 quarts water to rolling boil and drop in noodles or spaghetti. Cook until al dente, about 3-6 minutes, depending on noodles. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Drain well, put in bowl, and toss with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and sesame oil.
3. Warm oil in wok, stir-fry pan, or deep skillet over medium high heat and swirl to coat bottom and sides. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add ham, scallions, carrots, snow peas, and mushrooms and stir-fry about 2 minutes.
4. Add noodles and continue stir-frying until noodles are hot through. Add mushroom liquid mixture and oyster sauce and continue stir-frying until noodles are evenly coated, hot through, and fairly dry. Transfer to serving bowl or individual bowls and serve at once.
Sauteed Chicken with Sweet Peppers
This is lovely all on its own, but it also makes a fine sauce for pasta such as fettuccine, fusilli (rotini), farfalle (bowties), lumache ("snails"), or any tubular shapes like penne or ziti.
Ricotta Salata is a common grating cheese in Southern Italy made of ewes' or cow's milk ricotta that's usually salted and pressed into a cake. It's available at specialty markets. Romano can be substituted, but it's more pungent, so use a bit less.
1-1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast or boned and skinned chicken thighs
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium yellow bell pepper
1 medium green bell pepper
1 small yellow onion
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed, peeled, and minced
1 small hot pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
3/4 pound pasta, optional
Â½ cup freshly grated ricotta salata or about 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, optional, for pasta, plus more for serving
1. Cut each breast in half lengthwise and then slice crosswise about 1/4-inch thick. Stem, core, and remove membranes from peppers. Cut into strips about 1-1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide. Trim, halve, and peel onion, cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch wide strips. If using as pasta sauce, bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil.
2. Heat oil in skillet large enough to hold cooked pasta over medium heat. Add chicken and saute until beginning to color. Remove to plate or wide, shallow bowl. Add bell peppers and onion to pan and saute, tossing often, until wilted and onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and hot pepper and toss until fragrant. Season lightly with salt and pepper, lower heat, cover, and cook until vegetables are almost tender, about 8 minutes more.
3. Uncover, return chicken to pan, and toss until chicken is cooked through and peppers are tender, about 2 minutes longer. Add herbs, toss well, and turn off heat. If serving without pasta, serve at once. If using as pasta sauce, leave uncovered and proceed with step 4.
4. (Optional for pasta) Add small handful of salt to boiling water and stir in pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. When pasta is almost done, reheat chicken and peppers over medium low heat. Drain pasta, add to pan, and toss to mix. Turn off heat, add optional cheese, and toss. Taste and adjust seasonings, and serve at once pass more cheese separately.
Shrimp or Scallops Diane
This should be made in no more than two servings at once, but fortunately, there is something in its character that seems too intimate for sharing with more than one person. This classic Louisiana saute is usually made with shrimp, but when I came home last summer with cache of lovely fresh bay scallops and found a box of brown mushrooms in the fridge that was begging to be cooked, I discovered that scallops were equally delightful in this dish.
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, or 1/2 pound dry-pack bay scallops
4-6 tablespoons best quality butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound small brown (cremini or baby bella mushrooms), wiped clean and thickly sliced
6 small, thin scallions or spring onions, thinly sliced, white and greens separated
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, lightly crushed, peeled, and minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Whole black pepper in a mill
Â½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 lemon, halved
6 ounces fresh egg pasta cut into tagliatelle or fettuccine, or linguine
1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil. Pat shrimp dry or drain scallops well in wire mesh sieve and pat dry.
2. Warm 2 tablespoons of butter with olive oil in large, heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. When sizzling, add mushrooms and saute, tossing, until beginning to color on edges, about 2-3 minutes. Add white and pale, thick green parts of scallions and toss until hot through and translucent, then add garlic and thyme. Continue tossing until garlic is fragrant but not colored. Add shrimp or scallops and toss until no longer translucent.
3. Season generously with pepper and add wine. Cook until wine is evaporated and juices are somewhat thickened, about 2 minutes longer. Squeeze in juice of half of lemon and toss well. Taste and adjust lemon juice.
4. Add small handful of salt to boiling water and stir in pasta. Cook until al dente - about 2-4 minutes for fresh pasta, 6-12 minutes for dried pasta. When pasta is almost done, gently reheat sauce and turn off heat. Add thinly sliced onion greens and swirl in enough butter to give it consistency of thick cream. When pasta is ready, drain and immediately add to pan with sauce. Toss well, taste and adjust salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and toss again. Serve at once.