One of my first professional cooking experiences was as a line cook at a famous Italian restaurant in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. I was young and naive and hired as a “line cook.” I was the first woman (girl really) ever hired and so all eyes were watching. I was responsible for sauteing dishes to order, up to 10 saute pans firing at a time, over open flames, during the rush of the dinner service. Shrimp Scampi, Veal Piccata and Scallopini, and Chicken Marsala. It was stress and busy-ness on steroids. Talk about jumping around!
To sauté translates to “ to jump” in French and is the method to cook food quickly, with small amounts of fat, over relatively high heat, finished with sauces often prepared right in the saute pan. A saute pan is nothing more than a shallow frying pan, which when placed over high heat with a little fat, allows the food to jump and bounce. Chefs and showboat home cooks like me, also jump the pan, tossing the food to keep it moving and browning on all sides.
The method is simple.
Place the saute pan on high heat, add enough fat to lightly coat the bottom. (I like a mixture of butter and olive oil because the oil raises the smoking point of the butter; a great source of flavor. ) Salt and pepper your chicken, fish, veal, or scallops, and place them in the hot pan in a single layer, not touching. Let them brown a bit, then give the pan a jiggle and toss them around until they are browned and cooked on all sides.
When the items are cooked through, remove them from the pan, and deglaze the pan with either wine, stock, heavy cream, etc to loosen and dissolve the “fond” (the tasty bits) that result from the cooking process. This is the basis of a myriad of amazing sauces.
For a simple and delicious start with chicken or fish, after the saute, set the chicken or fish aside in a warm place, add another drizzle of olive oil, some chopped garlic, and let it cook for a minute. Then add a ¼ “ white wine to the pan, a handful of fresh chopped tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons of capers. Cook until the wine is reduced and the tomatoes are soft. Spoon over the fish or chicken. Yum!