One of the skills that you need to look for when hiring Chefs is their skill in heat control – how the right level of heat is applied to achieve the desired cooking outcome.

In the previous article, I wrote about the use of low heat sautéing and why Chef’s sweat vegetables. This time, let’s swing to the other end of the spectrum which is- High heat sautéing. 

The word sauté is derived from “Sauter” which is the French word for jump. It refers to a form of cooking where one uses a small amount of fat in a very hot pan to cook the food quickly. The goal goes beyond sweating, you intentionally want to achieve browning or caramelization of the food surface to achieve a more flavourful profile. The high heat quickly evaporates the water in the food making the flavours more concentrated as well as seal the food’s natural taste.

Chefs want to achieve browning when they want to:

  • add extra flavour
  • make use of the natural sweetness of the vegetables
  • make use of the browning colour as a visual effect
  • make use of the fonds or the little browned bits left after sautéing or frying for sauces


Here are some tips to consider when doing high heat sautéing:


Type of Pan 

The best type of sauté pan has a wide bottom, tall sides and long stable handle. There are even debates as to whether the slanted sides are better than the straight tall sides. But, the most important thing to look for in a sauté pan is the material’s conductivity. The pan needs to be very responsive to heat, meaning it has to heat up quickly. It has to cool off quickly as well. There are various materials out there that provide good conductivity such as stainless steel, cast iron, aluminium or even a  combination of materials. However, among these materials, stainless steel can be considered as an excellent choice because, unlike cast iron, copper, or aluminium, stainless steel is non-reactive. Stainless steel will not alter the flavour of acidic food.

This is why the nonstick varieties are not great options for sautéing. The nonstick material prevents the formation of “fonds” or the brown bits that are left behind after sautéing. 


Size of pan

Depending on the amount of food being sauteed, the pan should importantly be large enough to hold them in a single layer without crowding. When food is cooked in layers, the food will steam in its juices rather than sauté. In sautéing, the pan needs to be continually in high heat throughout the cooking process. Too much food in the pan lowers the heat and food ends up either steamed or boiled. The rapid cooling that happens due to overcrowding can lead to food sticking in the pan or the food getting cooked unevenly. 

But, it shouldn’t be too large either because the juices from the cooking will tend to run to the edges and burn. 


The oil of choice

When cooking in high heat, the most important to look for in oil is its smoke point. The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which it stops shimmering and starts smoking. The smoke point is also called the burning point of oil and can range from relatively low 325 F to very high (520 F). Burnt oil can create a disastrous effect on the food’s flavour and appearance. The best kinds are the ones that also are neutral in flavour so as not to compete with the food such as, sunflower oil, canola oil or peanut oil.

Butter can also be used. However, it has to be clarified butter instead of plain because the former has a high smoke point and can withstand the high heating procedure involved. Plain butter quickly burns which is why when using butter, it should be used in tandem with a high smoke point oil. 

The amount of oil should be enough to coat the bottom lightly, around 2 to 3 teaspoon. 


When to put the oil

It is important that the pan is heated first before oil is added, and then wait for the oil to become hot too. If food is cooked in oil that is not hot, it will soak up the oil and stick to the pan. 

Also, the hot fat helps coat the food so that the surface will brown evenly.



Chefs commonly use the tossing technique to move the ingredients in the pan. They grasp the handle to move it back and forth. The pan is also slightly lifted as it is being pulled back to make the tossing move and redistribute the food in the pan. When you sauté, you want to keep the food moving so that the food is cooked evenly. This is where sautéing differs from another similar cooking technique that is stir-frying. When sautéing, light browning is encouraged, which is why even if food is moved and tossed, it is not as constant as stir-frying. When food is over stirred, there is no chance of the surface to brown. Therefore, instead of continuous stirring, time is given for the food to cook without agitating it. 


RELATED READ: Pro Chefs Searing Tips For The Best Flavour


In Summary:

Sautéing is a critical skill that every professional Chef knows. This kitchen technique adds extra flavour, sweetness, and colour. It is straightforward but can easily be botched when the important factors are not taken into consideration. 

It should be noted that high heat is also used when pan-frying. But that’s for another article. 


That’s it for this week.
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