Searing and sautéing both involve cooking food in a shallow pan on the stovetop, but their similarities end there. Searing is a surface treatment used to produce a flavorful brown crust on thick cuts of protein. Sautéing is used to cook smaller pieces of food or thinner cuts of meat all the way through.
- Produce a flavorful, well-browned crust on thick steaks, chops, fish, or poultry before the interior of the food is finished with a gentler method. It does not “lock in” juices, as is commonly believed.
- Create fond (brown bits stuck to the pan) for use in a sauce or braising liquid.
- Use a conventional, rather than nonstick, skillet; it helps fond to develop.
- Use high heat and preheat the pan properly; the oil should just start to smoke.
- Do not move the food until a browned crust develops.
- Quickly cook thin cuts of meat and fish all the way through, as well as small pieces of food such as chopped vegetables.
- Soften onions, garlic, or other aromatics to build a flavorful base for a sauce, stew, or braise.
Keys to Success
- Use a slope-sided skillet to facilitate flipping and stirring.
- Use moderate heat to ensure even cooking; higher heat can cause the ingredients on the bottom of the pan to overbrown or burn before the ingredients on top have a chance to cook through.
- For smaller ingredients, stir and shake the pan to make sure exposure to heat is even.