Sometimes when you scan that new recipe you've been planning to make just after you walk in the door (late and already hungry), and the first line of the directions reads preheat the pan over medium heat, it's tempting to think, "Yeah, whatever. What's step number two?" However, since Everyday Chef is on a mission to become a sautè guru, I thought I'd do some research to find out if it's really necessary to preheat the pan, or if it's one of those steps that can be sacrificed to the tune of simplifying life.
If you're making a sautè recipe, the next step usually calls for adding the butter or oil to the pan. If this is the case, why not kill two birds with one stone, and heat the pan and the butter or oil at the same time? Right? That seemed logical to me--until now.
According to chefs at the Rouxbe Cooking School and to those consulted by the Reluctant Gourmet, preheating the pan is a step worth keeping. Essentially, and perhaps counter-intuitively, preheating the pan will prevent your ingredients from sticking or burning to the pan. Why? There are a couple of reasons: one reason is that heating the pan affects the chemistry of the pan, effectively sealing the surface of the metal so that it doesn't catch the meat of veggies you put on it; as the makers of Emerilware and All-Clad put it, preheating the pan helps to form a "natural barrier" that prevents foods from sticking. Another reason is that if you preheat the pan while you're heating your butter or oil, you will actually begin to degrade your fats while the pan heats, which will eventually cause your food to stick or you to add more butter or oil to the pan. And, just about everyone agrees that you should never add cold veggies or meats to a cold pan: the veggies and meats will lose tons of moisture as the pan heats up, leaving you with dry meats and pasty sautèed veggies.
So, next time you set up to sautè veggies or meats: 1. Place your pan on a burner over medium heat 2. After a minute or two, flick a few droplets of water on the surface, if it evaporates, it is hot enough to add your butter or oil 3. Add your butter or oil and once it is heated (but before it starts smoking!) add your veggies or meat
Check back on Monday to learn more about which kinds of fats are best for sautèing.