August 8th, 2012
[Day 1 can be found here.]
This seems remarkably straight forward, but too often I’ve seen food sweat when sauté is called for and vice versa. I’ve even created a word for it; “sweaté”. It’s where a recipe calls for a sauté and the cook ends up sweating the product.
There’s a dramatic difference though. Sweating is done at a relatively low temperature, sautéing is done at a high temperature. If people were clearer on the difference, their food might turn out better.
When a recipe calls for a sweat, put your food in a cold pot or pan with a little oil, turn it on low and walk away. If the temperature is right, little attention is needed, and vegetables will be softened. You can even put a lid on it to hasten the process. You don’t want colour on your product. You just want to soften them up.
Sautéing is a whole different beast. Instead of a cold pan, you start with a very hot pan, add your oil and agitate or toss your vegetables or meats regularly. Some say the term “sauté” (which in French means “jump”) is from the tossing motion of the pan, others say it’s because the pan is so hot, the food jumps around because of it. Either way, the method involves a lot of movement. With such high heats, food can burn easily. Constant motion prevents this from happening. Cooking in a wok is a good example of a sauté, though at a heat much higher than that available to regular stovetops.
Sautéing creates a similar result to a sweat in that it softens food with little colour, however because of the longer cook times with a sweat, you lose more of the violative flavour compounds through steam and the texture is generally more consistently soft throughout. A sautéed product will have a less cooked flavour and texture, and if a high enough heat is used a flavour the chinese call “wok hei”, which can be developed in pans with a surface temperature higher than 200°C (392°F).
A good way to remember the difference is that a sweat is like a sauna; sitting in a warm room, soaking in the heat. On the other side, a sauté is like walking over hot coals; done quickly and with a lot of fast movement.