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Old 03-02-2012, 12:27 PM   #1
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Sauteeing without burning oil

Hello All,

I've been trying mightily to sautee foods (chicken breasts in this case) without burning the oil, but without much success. For example, I closely followed the technique I've seen described several times about heating the pan on high heat, and then putting in the oil. I wait until a flick of water from my fingers boils away immediately, then I add the oil.

But every time, as soon as I put in the oil, it smokes a huge amount. So clearly the temperature is too high, but the recipes for true sauteeing seem to always say set the temperature on high heat.

I'm using high quality stainless steel cookware with tri-ply aluminum core.

So what am I missing here, and how can I correct it?

Thank you very much.

Steve

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Old 03-02-2012, 12:32 PM   #2
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What kind of oil are you using? Different oils have different smoke points.

I tend to start the burner then put the oil in. When it starts to ripple you should be just under the smoke point.
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Old 03-02-2012, 12:49 PM   #3
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In this case olive oil, but it doesn't seem to matter what oil I use, even the higher smoke point oils. The temp must be to high, but I'm just following the directions about high heat. Also, using a gas stove.

Should I turn down the heat when the oil starts to ripple, then? I want to get that "pop" and sear that proper sauteeing is supposed to result in.

Thanks

Steve
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Old 03-02-2012, 12:56 PM   #4
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You gotta be quick with gas heat. Like 30 seconds. Just practice and don't worry too much. You are better being a little lower than too high, right?
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Old 03-02-2012, 01:25 PM   #5
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There is really no benefit from heating the pan first, unless you are deliberately using a low smoke point fat and accepting the short window before it smokes, or if you are using a light pan. For instance, if you want to use butter and still have it very hot, you need to heat the pan, add the butter, and use it in the brief time available. But for oils with smoke points high enough to keep them at working heat for longer, you might as well put the oil in the cold pan, so that you're not guessing about the pan temperature, which can get overly high in a short time.

If you want to use olive oil, use light olive oil. It has less plant matter in it to burn and has a very high smoke point. I find that when the oil begins to ripple, it's at a useful temperature for most things and can be adjusted on the fly for finer control.

That old advice about heating the pan first is misleading in two ways. One is that what was originally meant was that you should not put the FOOD in the cold pan. That's right. Meat being heated in a cold pan will give off water long before the oil is hot enough, and you won't be able to saute, because you'll be boiling it. The other reason no longer applies to most home cooks. Traditional restaurant cookware and the formerly very common sort of home cookware, such as Revereware thin stainless copper bottom, had hotspots that could smoke some of the oil before most of it was ready.

You're using tri-ply steel, heavy and with a heat distributing slug or aluminum embedded in it. Your hotspot situation will be greatly reduced or non-existent. And, if you think about commercial cooking, the fires generally stay on. You throw the pan on the fire. It gets hit quickly, probably by the time you get the fat in the pan, and a commercial burner puts out so much heat that the whole operation is over very quickly. You don't have that kind of heat at home. The time required to heat a pan is long enough that misjudgments matter. Just put the oil in and watch for it to get hot. How much you have to adjust depends on the mass of food being cooked.
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Old 03-02-2012, 01:26 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by riversurf View Post
In this case olive oil, but it doesn't seem to matter what oil I use, even the higher smoke point oils. The temp must be to high, but I'm just following the directions about high heat. Also, using a gas stove.
You need to be very careful with high heat, especially on a gas stove. High heat doesn't necessarily mean you turn the heating element as far as it will go. It sounds like you're very lucky you haven't started a fire. There have been a couple times I've added oil to a super heated pan, turned my back for a few seconds, only to turn around and see a fire raging in the pan.

Anymore I do it the way Frank mentions. Turn on the burner, put the oil in the pan, and then add the food when the oil is shimmering. I know that's not always the way the "experts" say to do it, but I think it gives you better control. And if you're using a good quality pan, you probably don't need to turn the burner flame any more than three quarters. Most chef quality pans are excellent conductors of heat.
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Old 03-02-2012, 01:38 PM   #7
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The goal is to develop a nice browning on the first side of the breast. That can be done easily at lower than top temp setting. You don't have to use the highest heat setting to get the job done. Try it with the burner set at 75% that's what I do.

Some smoke is to be expected when you add the food. It's not necessarily the oil that's smoking. That would have been smoking before you added meat if it was too hot.

You can start at high heat and turn it down when you add the meat. A little experimentation is in order to figure it all out. I have learned which numbers (1-10) on my burner dial are appropriate settings for different foods.
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Old 03-02-2012, 02:30 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by riversurf View Post
But every time, as soon as I put in the oil, it smokes a huge amount. So clearly the temperature is too high, but the recipes for true sauteeing seem to always say set the temperature on high heat.
As you said, clearly the temperature is too high. Just ignore the instructions and start out on medium heat for a short time, or just add your oil to a cold pan and warm it until the oil reaches cooking temperature.

About the only reason I can see to use high heat is to shorten the wait. As you gain experience you can adjust the preheating temperature and time to suit yourself.
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Old 03-02-2012, 02:49 PM   #9
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Wow, thanks for all of the very helpful (and fast) responses. I'll just have to experiment with lower temperatures & get a feel for the stove.

Thanks

Steve
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Old 03-02-2012, 02:52 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by riversurf View Post
...I'll just have to experiment with lower temperatures & get a feel for the stove.

Thanks

Steve

Exactly right!

Good luck
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