Pan size is key to a proper saute


December 27, 2006|By Erica Marcus | Erica Marcus,Newsday

I made a side dish of sauteed brussels sprouts that were blanched and halved before being sauteed. They were good, but they didn't brown nicely like in the picture that accompanied the recipe. What went wrong?

I'm guessing that your saute pan was too small for the quantity of sprouts you were cooking. That nice, crisp sear can be achieved only if the food in question enjoys prolonged contact with a hot pan. Ideally, the pan would be wide enough to accommodate the sprouts in one layer, and, instead of continually prodding and stirring, you'd leave them alone for a few minutes so that each would brown.

This method is true for meat as well. When you brown meat for a stew, for example, it must all be in contact with the pan's surface. Your pan may not be large enough for all the meat, and that's why recipes often instruct you to brown meat in batches.

Another task ably performed by a wide pan is rapid evaporation. If you are heating a liquid, the larger the surface area of that liquid, the quicker it will reduce. I put one cup of water into each of two stainless-steel pans: an 11-inch-wide skillet and a 6-inch-wide saucepan. Ten minutes later, the water in the wide skillet had evaporated, but there was still 1/4 cup left in the saucepan.

That's why, when I want to make a very quick tomato sauce, I do so in a wide skillet: Saute a few cloves of garlic in olive oil until they just start to color; empty in a 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes, salt and pepper. When simmered over high heat, the sauce will be done in 10 minutes. The same sauce would take quite a bit longer in a saucepan.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday.

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