So what exactly is a saute pan? Unlike regular skillets which have low flared sides, a saute pan is a wide skillet that has straight sides and a lid. This pan lends itself to the sautéing method of cooking, hence its name. This French cooking technique (sautér) consists of frying or browning meat that is cut into pieces, such as chicken thighs for instance, then cooking or braising them in a flavored liquid.
A wide flat bottom is essential for even browning. You need a large surface that will stay hot and sear the food for best flavor. Any experienced cook will tell you that browning is the basis of most sauces because it is in the browning that flavors are developed.
The straight sides will prevent the food and liquids from spilling onto the stove and the lid will ensure that the liquid does not evaporate too fast. In addition, the wide cooking surface will come in handy when reducing the sauce.
Saute pans are a favorite of Rachael Ray. She uses them extensively in her 30 minute meal show. The reason? A large cooking surface speeds up the process. Since the food is cut into pieces (no whole chickens or roasts) and the method of cooking which is usually braising, the dishes cooked in these pans tend to take less time than other methods.
Choosing a pan:
Saute pans come in various sizes. A basic sauté pan should be between 10 -12 inches or 3.5 qt -4 qt. I recommend 12 inches or 4 qt (some sellers only refer to the liquid measure and not inches)
As far as materials are concerned, the choice varies. If you have read my other reviews you know I am going to favor 3-ply stainless steel. This material is a good material for browning and even heat retention. All Clad makes an excellent Classic 4-quart, 10-1/2-inch, straight-sided, 3-1/4-inch-deep sauté pan. It has a comfortable stay cool handle and a tight fitting lid with a mirror finish. Notice the helper handle on the side. It helps picking up the pan when it is loaded with food. (Read the full review)
Other cooks prefer nonstick surfaces. Although nonstick is not my favorite cooking surface except for cooking eggs and pancakes, I recommend the Calphalon nonstick saute pan.
A sauté pan is an integral part of a properly equipped kitchen and if you don’t have one, it might be a good idea to start shopping around for one.
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