Food 101: How to Sauté/Pan-Fry Chicken (And deglazing too!)
Probably one of the biggest things standing in the way of people from learning to cook properly is how intimidating it seems. The culinary world borrows words from dozens of different languages and has its own set of lingo that makes no sense outside of context. As mentioned last time, dredging is usually the industrial process of collecting mud, waste, and trash from the beds of harbors, but in cooking terms it simply means coating meat in flour. It’s easy to see how one could be easily confused and overwhelmed when the neat, new recipe they’ve found calls for them to acquire fancy-ass sounding ingredients like anise extract or turmeric or herbes de provence. It’s enough to make someone immediately yell “What the hell?” and quit while they’re ahead.
The same goes with directions too. How do you fold a liquid batter? It’s not paper. And furthermore, “browning” your meat doesn’t mean you want it literally the color brown. Actually, one of my favorite methods of cooking is one of those fancy shmancy terms, sautéing. It sounds SO ritzy, yet it’s probably one of the simplest cooking processes out there, and is a key stepping stone to learning to cook.
Sauté is one of those words that everyone’s heard but can’t actually put their finger on what it means. It brings to mind five-star restaurants filled with stuffy douchebags shilling out hundreds for food made by some cook wearing an enormous, cartoon, poofy chef hat. It sounds like something you can only use to make the most complicated meals, and like something you need to practice for hours/watch days worth of Food Network to comprehend. The good news is that all of that is toootally false.
Pretty much, sautéing just means cooking something in a tiny bit of oil/fat at a high heat. So in other words, it’s kinda like frying, but healthier since you can use (oh so ironically) better-for-you fats like olive oil or canola oil. That’s not to say you couldn’t deep-fry some nice country chicken in a pot of olive oil, buuut frankly speaking, shit’s expensive. The beauty of sautéing food is that it requires very little oil/butter in the pan, so you won’t be going through your $22 gallon of olive oil in two meals.
I should point out that there is a bit of awkward semantics involved in this type of cooking, actually. Sauté, pan-fry, and stir-fry are all actually ridiculously similar cooking methods with idiotically minute differences. For starters, sautéing and stir-frying are both supposed to be done with small pieces of food in just a tiny bit of oil/fat. So in other words, they’re pretty much the exact same thing, only stir-fries are done in wok pans, the deep/tall ones you see at Asian restaurants. Pan-frying is more done with bigger pieces of food in deeper oil, maybe about 1/4″ deep. Yet when I make dishes like the one in this post, I use the amount of oil you’re supposed to use in a sauté, so… Yeah. The differences are really small, to the point you can use them interchangeably, but not really if you want to be technical. PCFG isn’t exactly the ritz, so for the purpose of this post, we’re just gonna refer to it as sautéing for now.
To begin sautéing, all you really need to do is take a shallow frying/sauce pan and put your choice of fats into it. Olive oil and canola oil are the healthiest choices, but plain old vegetable oil works just as well. Peanut oil will change the flavor, so use it only if you want that particular taste. Same goes with sesame oil, and other auxiliary plant oils out there. If you’re feeling extravagant or down-homey, you can use lard or shortening just as well for that homestyle flavor. A happy medium between the two extremes is good, old, reliable butter. Tasting delicious and not really bad for you in small doses such as this, it can be used on its own or in tandem with your oil of choice. Heat the pan, and let your oil begin to cook and get runny. As mentioned, to sauté things you only need a shallow amount of fat in the pan. So really, anything deeper than 1/4″ is too much. You only need to put in enough oil/fat to coat the bottom of the pan. This is a lot easier to do when the pan is hot, so keep and eye on it and play it by ear. Once your oil seems hot enough, throw whatever meat you want in, let it cook thoroughly on both sides, and voila. You can now sauté food.
Like I said earlier, sautéing is one of my favorite ways to cook stuff on account of how ridiculously simple and easy it is. This, in tandem with the fact that it produces food that seems really work-intensive makes it the perfect go-to choice for anything. Don’t know what to make for yourself on a sleepy Monday night? Sauté some chicken breasts. Living in a TV show and having your boss over for dinner? Sauté some pork chops. Living in a TV show and having your Orthodox Jewish boss over for dinner? …Sssauté some chicken breasts. That’s the beauty of sautéing, you can do it to literally anything that isn’t an icecube. Chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, tofu, it all flies.
To get you started on your new adventures in frying pans, here’s a pretty basic recipe archetype for, the above, sautéd chicken breasts.
Sautéed Chicken With Lemon Rosemary Sauce
Dredging and sautéing
- 1 tbsp butter
- Olive oil
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into smaller pieces OR Pre-cut/pre-cleaned thinslice chicken breasts* (The numbers don’t really matter, just make whatever number you’re cooking for. On average
- 1 Cup flour
- Salt and pepper
- Garlic powder
- White wine
- 1 Cup chicken broth/stock
- 1/3 Cup lemon juice
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp rosemary
- 2 tsp fresh garlic (or powder)
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp flour
- To begin, put your butter into a frying pan or a sauce pan on high heat, and added enough olive oil to just barely coat the bottom of the pan Let the butter melt and swish your pan around to get it distributed nicely, then reduce heat to low so it doesn’t burn.
- Next, dredge your chicken using the flour, and adding enough salt, pepper, and garlic powder as you like. For dredging, refer to my previous post if you need a refresher.
- Turn the heat back to medium-high and add your coated breasts (teehee) into the frying pan. The pan is gonna get all loud and angry and splashy so don’t do so shirtless.
- Let the chicken cook until it seems a little tannish brown and cooked around the edges, then flip them over and do the same thing on the other side. Reduce the pan heat to low again, remove your chicken and set it aside for the time being. Next comes the exciting part.
Deglazing is the act of flash-steaming/boiling pieces of food cooked onto the pan after sautéing. It’s usually done with wine, but can be done with literally any liquid, usually caustic ones like alcohol or vinegar. In this case, you’ll be using white cooking wine.
Note: Deglazing isn’t dangerous per-se, however the process is very violent as far as cooking goes, being incredibly loud and scary-looking.
- To deglaze, keep your pan on low-heat, and while it’s still hot from sautéing, pour the wine into the pan so that it covers the entire bottom. Again, it’s gonna basically scream at you, since you’re pouring cool, alcoholic liquid into a red-hot, oil-coated pan. You’re not gonna get burned, so long as you don’t freak out.
- Let the pan do its thing, it will slowly subside as the pan cools. When it calms down, begin stirring and scraping the pan to get all the pieces of food off of the bottom. Add in your broth, lemon juice, and butter, and stir til everything melts and is blended well.
- Add in your rosemary, garlic, then season to taste with salt and pepper. After everything is combined, add your flour, since it will thicken it into a gravy. At first the flour will be clumpy, but keep stirring it and it will eventually blend in and the whole pan will look delicious.
- Lastly, add your cooked chicken back into the pan of sauce, and cook for a couple more minutes to reheat the chicken in it, and then you’re done!
So that recipe might seem tl;dr or complicated at first, but believe me, the entire process goes quick if you work efficiently. I.e. get your pan ready, then dredge the chicken and add it in as you go, instead of prepping the chicken all at once, then cooking. Deglazing can be terrifying when you first try, but like sex, the more you do it, the less likely you are to end up with second degree burns. Man up and show that pan who’s boss. The outcome will be incredibly impressive to people who think sautéing is something that can only be learned in a trade school, and will also be super delicious. And as mentioned, you can do this with any meat, or any vegetable, so it offers up versatility based on different diets.