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How To Saute Chicken?

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I'm a beginner at cooking and currently learning how to saute. I've found multiple answers to some of the questions listed below and some are contradicting, so I would like to know what you guys think. Let's say I'm sauteing a piece of chicken wing folded akimbo.

1) Should I season before or during cooking? Why? If I'm adding herbs, say dried tarragon, when should I add it?

2) If I'm using butter and oil together, what's the ratio?

3) After placing the chicken onto the pan, should I shake the pan a little or don't move it at all? Why?

4) If I suppose to, when should I shake the pan? Why?

5) Should I keep the burner at medium-high heat or lower it once the chicken browns?

6) How many times should I flip the chicken? Why?

7) Should I brown both sides first before finish cooking all the way through or should I finish one side first before flipping to finish the other? Why?

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  1. 1) Should I season before or during cooking? Why? If I'm adding herbs, say dried tarragon, when should I add it?

    Season with salt and pepper immediately after toweling the chicken dry dry.
    Save the herbs to add after browning (you don't want to brown the herbs and disturb their flavor subtleties.

    2) If I'm using butter and oil together, what's the ratio?

    Half and half. But watch the butter; it'll burn even when blended with other oils.

    3) After placing the chicken onto the pan, should I shake the pan a little or don't move it at all? Why?

    If you have oil in the pan, shaking it doesn't do much beyond risking splashing oil around the cooking area. Put you chicken in the pan, leave it alone until it browns on the side exposed to heat, then move it to expose other areas you want to brown. Use tongs to do the job.

    4) If I suppose to, when should I shake the pan? Why?

    It's important to keep the meat moving but you don't have to shake the pan. You'll sometimes see professional chefs shaking the pan when cooking on a commercial range when they need to make a quick adjustment or to keep the tempo moving in the kitchen but you shouldn't have to use that technique.

    5) Should I keep the burner at medium-high heat or lower it once the chicken browns?

    Sauteeing is done on high heat, not medium-high. High heat doesn't that you have to pour out every BTU that your burner is capable of, but if it's a typical residential kitchen setting, it would probably be somewhat abovet medium-high on either a gas or electric range.

    6) How many times should I flip the chicken? Why?

    "Flip" the chicken as many times as it takes to brown it on all sides. That may require several "repeat flips" but as long as the browning is even don't fuss about it.

    7) Should I brown both sides first before finish cooking all the way through or should I finish one side first before flipping to finish the other? Why?

    I'm not sure what you mean. Brown the side in contact with the heat. When that's browned, "flip" (not sure what that means either) the chicken to expose unbrowned areas to the heat. Repeat until its properly browned.

    3 Replies
    1. re: todao

      i agree with your answers, todao, but as to the last question, i think the OP means how would they know for sure (being new at sauteing) that the chicken is cooked inside once a piece is browned? just because it's properly browned on all sides doesn't mean it's necessarily cooked all the way through - i mean, a wing, maybe, but not if you were sauteing a breast or a thigh, or even a leg. i think the question is, can you keep turning the chicken over so as to cook through from every side, even after the piece is "browned". and i believe the answer is yes, so i would not over-brown a piece on any one side, but keep turning it over, and once you do reach a certain degree of brownness, i would turn down the heat a bit so that it does cook through without over-browning.

      1. re: todao

        This is extremely helpful and thorough, and I agree with you except for the "high" heat thing. I cook pretty much exclusively in cast iron, and high heat in my CI on my glass-top stove would be destructive to pan and meat alike! And high or medium-high can be problematic with some nonstick pans as well -- causing some of the nonstick surface to... cook into the food, for lack of a better way to explain it this late at night.

        1. re: LauraGrace

          I'm with you, Laura -- The only time I turn the burner to full-blast is to bring something to a boil.

          Sauteing for me is at a medium-high number on my dial (dials don't mean much if you aren't familiar with the particular appliance....)

      2. 1) Should I season before or during cooking? Season several hours advance of cooking, so the salt has a chance to absorb into the flesh. This will produce thoroughly-seasoned meat. Seasoning in advance also gives the surface time to air dry, which produces a better sear. As far as herbs go, it depends. My rule of thumb is that dried herbs should be applied before cooking, and fresh herbs after.

        2) If I'm using butter and oil together, what's the ratio? No real answer, just whatever favor you prefer.

        3) After placing the chicken onto the pan, should I shake the pan a little or don't move it at all? Why? Don't move it for at least 3 - 4 minutes. At that point give it a gentle lift with a fork. If the meat is still stuck don't force it, just keep cooking until it lifts easily.

        5) Should I keep the burner at medium-high heat or lower it once the chicken browns? Lower it.

        6) How many times should I flip the chicken? Why? Once, because flipping often interferes with building a crust.

        7) Should I brown both sides first before finish cooking all the way through or should I finish one side first before flipping to finish the other? Why? Todao has a good answer here.

        One more thing that was an important realization for me: use enough fat! Cooking got a lot easier when I learned to stop skimping on the oil. It really helps with browning and keeping meat from sticking. If you have health concerns it's not like you have to consume all that oil; only a little bit sticks to the meat and I'm convinced that there is actually a net loss of fat from the chicken's drippings rendering out.

        1. It's a bit confusing because I get so many different answers. One says to flip as much as I need. One says to flip once as to not interfere with the building of the crust. One says to add the dried herb after browning. One says to add it in the beginning. One says to use high heat. One says to lower the heat once browned. Which is correct?? :o

          Also, should I cover the pan, if so, at what stage? Why?

          By the way, I'm currently learning French cooking on my own in preparation to venture into France within the next 2-3 years for further training. I'm actually a sushi apprentice with just a year of experience and I handle primarily water and raw ingredients, but my long term goal is to learn French cooking. I just want to work in the field of sushi for a couple of years to learn about the different ways of preparing seafood and take those skills and knowledge into my French journey. I've purchased almost all the books and DVD's by Julia Child and I'm using these as my primary resources for learning French cooking, but there are many little details that aren't explained and I've been seeing many different ways of doing the same thing like sauteing chicken, but I want to know which is correct. I mean, there must be a standard of doing things right? Because I thought French cooking is very codified. What I'm looking for the most right now are the right principles.

          1 Reply
          1. re: SenseofTouch

            French cooking is not some sacred paradigm...and the right techniques are universal.

            You might want to start with a beginner's level cookbook -- something along the lines of "How to Boil Water" http://www.amazon.com/Boil-Water-Food... so that you get your start learning to crawl before heading out to run the Boston Marathon.

          2. I have not read others response, but here are my answers:

            1) You should season before if you can. Obviously, it is not the end of the world if you do not, but I think you will eventually find your own answer in this one.

            2) That should be completely your own personal choice. I will start with a 1-to-1 ratio or a 1-to-2 (butter to oil) ratio. From there, you will find your own answer.

            3) I shake just a little bit, but not much. Once the meat starts to stick, then you should want for it to un-stick itself.

            4) You can shake the pan anytime you like. There is no restriction in this.

            5) This actually depends on the size of your chicken believe or not. If your chicken is cut into small bits, then you are probably rather to serve soon after they are browned. However, if you have very large piece of chicken piece, then you should turn the heat to allow through cooking without burning the surface.

            6) This depends the size of your chicken pieces.

            7) I like to brown both sides, but I know others do it differently here

            While there is a lot of systemic procedure in cooking, there are more creative space there as well. Don't be surprised that everyone has different preference of how to do things. You will find your own space and own method. Some people add sugar before milk to their coffee. Other add milk first. :)

            1. A lot of good information given

              On #3 I like to slide the chicken (or other protein) around gently, usually with my fingers, as soon as it hits the very hot surface. With some things by the time it does a natural release it's getting over cooked for me. By doing this it never really sticks but browns just as well.

              On #5, I start out on high but turn it down as soon as the meat hits the pan to medium or medium high.

              On #7, it just depends for me depending on what's being cooked. Scallops and fish I will brown heavier on one side and lighter on the other so I don't over cook them but still get good color on at least one side. Most other things can be split evenly between sides.

              Keep cooking SoT. You will learn a lot from doing