Sautè sounds easy enough. And when there are endless recipes that call for sautèing vegetables, it's all just a cinch, right? Unfortunately not. For many people it's difficult to find the elusive balance between veggies burnt to the pan and veggies soggy with too much oil (in an attempt to avoid burning of course!). The first place to start is the pan. A sautè pan and a skillet (or fry pan) are actually different. That doesn't mean that you need two pans, but understanding the differences can help you get the most mileage out of whichever one you do have.
A skillet is a really useful tool in the kitchen, but it differs from the ideal pan to sautè vegetables in two ways: 1. It has a smaller cooking area because of the curved sides. 2. It doesn't come with a lid. See the picture of the skillet to the right.
A sautè pan on the other hand has straight sides that both increase the cooking surface and contain vegetables and liquids that are rapidly moved around the pan with your wooden spoon or spatula. It also comes with a lid (see the image above), so you can quickly and easily preserve moisture if your dish is becoming too dry.
Bottom line: If you don't have one and don't want to invest in a potentially expensive sautè pan, your skillet CAN do double duty. This will likely mean cooking in slightly smaller batches (so each piece of food can be in contact with the cooking area) and buying or finding a lid to cover your skillet. The lid is really important as it will help you retain the moisture that will prevent you from adding extra oil.
Check back over the next couple of days for more information on sautèing - we'll be looking at how-to's and specifics for a few key veggies.