A Chef’s skill in controlling heat runs a spectrum, ranging from the highest heat to the lowest heat.

Each cooking technique has a specific purpose of achieving the desired cooking outcome. Skilled Chefs know that for each method, you can yield a considerable change in flavour even in the small, subtle changes.  

Sometimes a recipe calls for a step that seems underwhelming that its effect in a dish is often dismissed. Such is the story of low heat sauteing or what is commonly called as Sweating. 

Sweating is cooking vegetables ( usually aromatics) in fat at a low temperature to soften and release their moisture and essences into the pan without browning. Sweating comes from the Italian word “Soffritto” means lightly or “under” fried. The goal of sweating is to pull the flavour out of the vegetables so that it can influence the liquid in your dish along with the other ingredients. 

This method is often used in recipes where the aromatics will be a background flavour base rather than the main ingredients in the dish. Many slow-simmered dishes involve this method where the vegetables will continue to cook over a long stretch of time, like with braises and soups.


Advantages of Sweating:

  • The original colour of the vegetables is retained since the heat is not enough to brown the vegetables. The heat used is either low or medium heat. Food sizzles very gently so that it can release its liquid and flavours into the pan without colouring. If there is browning, it is a sign that the heat is too high or there is not enough fat/oil. 
  • The original flavour of the vegetables is retained since the heat is also not enough to caramelize it to change the flavour profile. If making soup, sweating the main ingredients allows the subtle flavours to be extracted before the primary liquid is added. 
  • There are no fonds left on the pan since the heat is not enough to crisp the exterior surface of the vegetables. This is important if the dish does not involve deglazing, where the fonds may get burned. 
  • There is no need or if ever, very little, tossing or stirring since the heat is not enough to cause a risk of burning the vegetables. 

Tips to sweating vegetables:

  1. Vegetables should be minced or cut into small or medium dice. Cutting vegetables in small pieces ensures speed in the cooking process since they are cooked at low heat.
  2. Pan can be preheated, but ensure that it is on low and not on medium heat.
  3. Listen. When the vegetables are cooking, there can be a very gentle sizzle as a result of moisture escaping. When it becomes very audible, turn the heat low.
  4. Watch out for browning. It vegetables do brown even slightly, it means that the heat is too high. Again you need to turn the heat down.
  5. Another trick to lower the heat is to add a tablespoon of cold water. It is enough to cool down the pan quickly and will evaporate.
  6. Although the heat is too low to pose a risk in burning, there still is a need to stir once or twice to ensure even cooking.
  7. Cook onions, shallots, celery until translucent. As for other vegetables, the thing to watch out for is glistening and softening around the edges. 


RELATED READ: Achieving Synergy in Flavours Through Simmering


In Summary:

Sweating or low heat sautéing is a technique of cooking aromatic vegetables in fat using low heat. The goal of sweating vegetables is to extract their flavourful essences without browning. This is done as an initial step where the subsequent steps complete the cooking process. 

People often mistake browning as part of sweating, and it is skilled chefs and cooks who genuinely understand this subtle skill that impact the dish’s look and flavour. 


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