Cooking meats in pan over relatively high heat and with little oil is called sautéing. This technique is used for steaks, chops, cutlets, chicken breasts and more. (Stir frying is a form of sautéing.) Often a gravy or sauce is made from the drippings or fond. Here’s how to do it:
- Choose and prepare the pan. Choose a pan that is large enough just to accommodate the meat without the pieces overlapping. It should be a heavy metal pan that will distribute heat evenly. Add enough fat (oil or butter) to lightly coat the pan. Consider the amount of marbling in the meat in determining the amount of fat use. Non-stick pans may require no more fat than already exists in the meat.
- Season the meat before you start cooking. Season foods with salt and pepper, as well as with any spice blends or rubs before you begin cooking. Doing so will cause the meat to absorb the flavors more efficiently than seasoning the meat while it is cooking.
- Preheat the pan. Add the meat only after the pan is thoroughly heated. For red meats or very thin slices of meat, heat the fat until the surface ripples and looks hazy. Less intense heat is required for white meats, fish, or thicker cuts of red meat.
- Cook the meat. It’s essential to keep the pan hot through the cooking process. The hot pan sears the meat and seals in the juices. Cook the meat on one side and then turn the meat to cook the other. Meats should be turned only once. Additional turns will lose juice and cause the pan and the meat to lose heat. Neither will the drippings be allowed to develop with frequent turnings. Because meat will continue cooking after it is removed from the heat, allow for the “carryover” time in determining how long a meat should cook.
- Make the gravy or sauce. After removing the meat from the pan, remove any excess fat. To deglaze the pan, add a bit of broth or wine to the pan and loosen the drippings or fond. Add the sauce base which may be additional broth, a prepared sauce, or cream. Reduce the base with cooking. If the sauce or gravy needs to be thickened, add a small amount of starch—usually cornstarch or flour—that has been dissolved in water and stirred to a smooth paste. The starch in the resulting sauce will gelatinize as it simmers and thicken the liquid. The sauce can be passed through a sieve for a smooth liquid if desired. Finally, add any additional seasonings or butter to the warm sauce or gravy.