Sautéed vegetables are a little different from other cooked vegetables. Cooked in a small amount of oil over fairly high heat, they have a chance to brown nicely while still cooking through. The result? A delicious vegetable as tender as you like it, with a sweet, partially caramelized exterior.
Sautéing is also a little more involved than some other cooking methods. To properly make sautéed vegetables, you need to stir them almost constantly. The word "sauté" comes from the French word for "jump", and those vegetables really do need to be jumping!
But keeping a careful eye on the vegetables, and knowing the little tips and tricks that make it just right, anyone can sauté vegetables and make a sweet, delicious vegetable dish.
When you're making sautéed vegetables, the way you prepare them before cooking them is important. If you want them to cook through and brown properly, there are a few things you need to do.
Wash The Vegetables
You should always wash vegetables before eating them, to get off any dirt, chemicals or microorganism that might still be on them. Some vegetables can be scrubbed, but others are more delicate and should just be immersed in water or cleaned under running water. Lukewarm water is best for washing vegetables, because it helps lift off dirt and particles better than cold water.
Once the vegetables are washed, they need to be dried. Like roasting, sautéing is a dry heat cooking method. If you sauté wet vegetables, they won't have as intense a flavor, or get that nicely browned exterior. So dry the vegetables as best you can!
Cut Up The Vegetables
How you cut up the vegetables is important for sautéed vegetables. Unlike roasting, where the heat just radiates through whatever you're cooking, sautéing relies on conduction – first, the outside of the vegetables comes into contact with the heat and gets warm, and then the heat is transferred inwards.
That means that the outside cooks much faster than the inside when you're sautéing, so you need to cut your veggies into small enough pieces.
Here's what you need to keep in mind when cutting up your veggies for sautéed vegetables.
Cut up the vegetables in small pieces. It's okay if they're long and flat, because the heat can sill get through that way.
For dense vegetables like potatoes or carrots, the pieces shouldn't be much more than a quarter to half an inch thick.
Lighter vegetables, like mushrooms, can be thicker.
Cut the vegetables into even sized pieces. That way, all the vegetables will be perfectly cooked at the same time.
If you're planning on sautéing several vegetables, make sure that they'll all be done at the same time.
You can cut slower cooking vegetables, usually denser ones like carrots, into smaller pieces than the faster cooking ones.
You can start with the slower cooking vegetables, and then add the faster cooking ones after.
Do Not Refrigerate!
The last thing you need to take care of when preparing your vegetables is to make sure that they're at room temperature before sautéing them. If you add cold vegetables to your hot skillet, they'll cool the skillet down, and it'll be a lot harder to get the veggies to sear nicely.
Pick The Right Pan
Okay, so this isn't really preparing the vegetables, but the pan you pick can affect the results you get. Here's what you should look for in a sauté pan.
It's best if the pan can hold all your veggies in a single layer. Vegetables release steam as they cook, and if they're overcrowded, you'll end up steaming them instead of sautéing them. A large pan ensures that the steam can escape without cooking your veggies.
A shallow pan, one with low edges, will also help steam escape more easily.
A pan with vertical sides rather than rounded sides can help you stir the vegetables more vigorously without them flying out of the pan.
Sautéed vegetables need to be stirred frequently. You can do this with a spoon or spatula, or by shaking the pan. If you pick the latter, you want to be sure your pan is light enough for you to handle comfortably.
Once the vegetables are washed, cut up, and dried, they're ready to be sautéed. In this section, I'll go over what you need to do to make your sautéed vegetables.
Here's what you do.
Heat some oil in a large, shallow pan over medium to high heat.
You don't need a lot of oil. You just want enough to barely coat the pan, so that the vegetables won't stick.
If you prefer, you can use clarified butter, or a mixture of butter and oil, for flavor. The pan will be to hot for just butter on its own, though.
The high heat is necessary to sear the vegetables and get that nice, caramelized flavor.
Add the vegetables to the hot pan.
Stir the vegetables frequently until they're nicely browned and cooked through. Give them a good shake or stir every so often to keep them from sticking and to help them cook evenly.
You can do this by moving the pan back and forth quickly, making the vegetables jump. It does tend to cool down the pan though, so set the heat higher, or don't shake too often.
You can also just use a wooden spoon or a spatula to stir the vegetables.
If it looks like the vegetables are getting too brown, but aren't cooked through yet, turn the heat down a bit.
Serve, and enjoy!
You can also add some seasonings to the vegetables as you sauté them. Some, like garlic or herbs, can be added right from the start, so that they have time to heat and release their flavor. Others, like grated cheese or dried fruit, can be added closer to the end, so that they don't overcook or burn.
Remember that when you're cooking for yourself or your family, you should cook things the way you like it! There's no need to take the vegetables out when they're still crisp if you like them a bit soft. So taste the vegetables, and when they're the way you like them, they're done.
And that's how to make sautéed vegetables. It's super versatile and absolutely delicious. Try out different vegetables, and find out what you like best!