The 9 Steps of Basic Saute Are Not Only For Bourbon Chicken

They asked me to make Bourbon Chicken for the Beer Bourbon BBQ Festival this year. The mistake they made was asking me to send the recipe. They should know better than to ask the guy famous for burning recipes to write something down.

That’s just the point, I don’t use recipes. Bourbon Chicken could be White Wine Chicken or Tequila Chicken using the same basic cooking method. Knowing how to saute allows you to create simple and quick dishes using the ingredients you desire. All you have to do is duplicate the basic procedure:

1) Pan Hot First – Perhaps the biggest mistake home cooks make. They don’t heat the pan first. Sprinkle a little water on the pan from your fingertips. If the water sizzles, it’s hot enough to cook

2) Add Fat – You’re not deep-frying nor pan-frying, please don’t fill the pan half way with oil. The fat in a saute method is meant to transfer the heat, so just enough to cover the bottom of the pan.

3) Fat Hot – Heat the fat until a point just before it’s going to smoke. You can tell this because it changes from being perfectly smooth and glassy in the pan to getting ripples as it starts to heat.

4) Protein Product – This is where you add chicken, beef, shrimp, fish, pork, tofu, sausage, or anything you can make up. It doesn’t matter what this protein product is, that’s why the method is so flexible.

5) Cook 75/25 – Cook the protein product 75 percent on the first side and 25 percent on the second. If you flip it too early, you lose the visual indicators of whether it’s cooking or not.

6) Aromatics – Remove the protein product to a plate and add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, peppers or any other vegetable you’d like. They’ll build flavors along with the left over bits from the protein product.

7) Deglaze With A Cold Liquid – Any cold liquid will drop the temperature of the pan quickly and dramatically, releasing the fond from the bottom of the pan and changing the heat to a moist cooking method.

8 ) Return the Protein Product – If you’d like to finish cooking the protein product in a moist fashion along with the deglazing liquid, it will help retain moisture and combine flavors.

9) Reduce or Thicken – You’ve got a flavorful pan sauce working, but it won’t stick to food. You need to either let it reduce by evaporation, add something that’s thicker than the sauce like goat cheese or tomato paste, or thicken with roux or slurry to make a great sauce.

I chose to use this method to create Bourbon Chicken. You could just as easily use the same procedure to make Tequila Beef or Red Wine Shrimp. Actually, I could mention at least 10 new dishes you can create from the simple 9 step process of basic saute.

See Bourbon Chicken prepared in a live cooking demonstration

About Chef Todd

Chef Todd Mohr is a Certified Culinary Educator who has empowered home cooks all over the world with the reliable, dependable, repeatable METHODS behind cooking that build confidence, generate creativity and enable anyone to cook with the ingredients THEY desire.


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  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    5:45 PM - 15 October, 2015

    Hey Ed!
    The idea behind the 3 step process of pan hot, add fat, fat hot is so that you get quick reactions from the heat. Adding oil to a cold pan and then adding heat is like trying to bake bread in an oven that's not pre-heated. You don't want the heat to build slowly, you want quick reactions.

  • Ed Bricker
    Ed Bricker
    6:54 PM - 14 October, 2015

    Hi Chef....

    I'm curious.... what is the difference between adding oil to a hot pan before adding protein and heating up a cold pan with oil in it until the oil is striated, and then adding the protein?

  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    9:15 PM - 1 February, 2015

    You are exactly right, Ari. Trying to cook a wet item will result in steaming rather than a dry conductive process. Liquid will prevent browning.

  • ari-free
    6:07 AM - 29 January, 2015

    You should also add for #4 to make sure the protein is dry. Many people wash or marinate their meat and when they add the wet meat to the pan, all that moisture steams up and they get less browning

  • ari-free
    6:02 AM - 29 January, 2015

    I just came up with an idea. Instead of regular grilled hot dogs, how about sauteed hotdogs and then add beer! The only thing is, I wouldn't serve the hot dogs with the sauce because they'd still go in the bun with other fixins

  • Chef Todd Mohr
    Chef Todd Mohr
    4:19 PM - 9 December, 2014

    Hi David!
    I'm encouraging people to cook with their EYES and not written instructions. So, if I told you that the heat had to be "medium", would that help? No, probably not.
    If your oil is smoking, use less heat next time. What complicates this is that all oils have different smoke points, they all burn at different temperatures.
    That makes it impossible for me to give you ONE answer to your question about time or temperature.

    The key is OBSERVING what is happening. If you heat a pan so that drops of water evaporate, you know the pan is hot. It's at least 212F/100C where water evaporates.
    Then, add oil to the pan, swirl the pan so the oil covers the bottom and watch for "striations" or lines in the oil as it starts to go from perfectly smooth to "streaky".
    This is a visual indicator that it's about to smoke. Add your ingredients and lower the heat slightly so that it doesn't build up to a point of burning.

    When you control the heat well enough to get a nicely browned product without smoking the oil, then you're cooking with skill.

  • David Riches
    David Riches
    6:49 PM - 8 December, 2014

    how hot should the heat be to saute? All the way up/.75%/50%? I have tried and the oil burns.Help me.

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