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Saute vs. Stir Fry

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Just a quick question - what's the difference between stir frying something and sauteing it?

I know that when you saute you flip the food using a motion with the pan.

Are the pans any different?
post #2 of 13
Saute is high heat, little fat. Sauteed food is typically allowed to brown, at least slightly before moving it in the pan. Sauteing cooks the food mostly with transferring heat from the pan, through a process called "contact conduction."

Stir fry is also high heat, but more fat. Because the food is cooking in oil, it can be moved around without altering the browining process (Maillard reaction, usually). So, typically there's more agitation to insure the food cooks evenly. Also, the ideal pan is different -- for stiry frying that is a wok. A wok allows the cook to move food through a depth of oil, without leaving it there for a few minutes. While contact conduction plays a role, the physics of stir frying is much more dependent on liquid immersion conduction.

post #3 of 13
saute vs stir fry..hmm more or less the same to me juz diff wit the language..saute is in french & stir fry comply to asian type of cooking method..
post #4 of 13

I more thought to some of the things I said about saute and realize I was too hard-@$$, and way too full of my self. In cooking there's always more than one way to skin a cat. Toss-turning without a tool is very nice, but it's not the be and end all of cooking generally -- or even sauteing.

To saute is to do something very specific. That is, to cook food, almost always cut in small pieces, in an open pan, over relatively high heat, in very little oil. The pan must be at cooking temperature before the food goes in. Because the pan is hot, depending on the food, there will be an immediate chemical reaction on the surface of the food as protein and starch molecules begin to change into somewhat or very different compounds. A side effect of the change is that the food will stick to the bottom of the pan.

When the (desired) changes have occurred the food will "release," and (mostly) un-stick itself. The value of toss-turning is that only food that is ready will turn -- while lifting with a spatula or stirring with a spoon will break the bond. Toss-turning simplifies the timing, but doesn't make the cooking method.

I still think that it's nice to have pans that work a little better than stainless, are a little lighter, are conducive to toss-turning, and that it's worthwhile for you to learn know how to toss-turn; but, I apologize for being so pompous before and implying that my way was the only way or even the best way. The "proof of the pudding is in the eating," not in the pontification. The first rule of cooking is: Whatever works.

That said, saute is a very specific term relating to a particular level of heat, a particular amount of fat and a particular timing. Stir fry is a much looser term. But, as loose at is it does not completely overlap with saute. For instance, it is possible to saute a piece of fish and only turn it once. You certainly wouldn't say that it was stir-fried. It's possible to begin a stir fry with a 1/4" or more of oil in the wok (or pan), but not a saute.

My san yen,
post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
So does sauteing take more technique?
post #6 of 13
Saute is something very specific. Stir fry is a looser term. If you stir fry with the discipline of a good Asian cook, which takes excellent knife skills, timing and more, the amount of technique may be even greater.

If you stir fry by overloading a pan with oil and food, then pushing it around with a non-stick spoon -- that's not technique at all.

We're into language here, not technique.

post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 
With a saute pan so hot, is there any significant nutritional difference that occurs with sauteing?
post #8 of 13
With the technique of stirfry (if we are talking about the Cantonese method, which we call "chow") the main points to consider are extremely high heat (your wok MUST be scalding hot), a good solid cooking vessel (basically a well seasoned carbon steel wok), and a lot of strength.

The general radiative heat and convenction/conduction generated by the flame and the wok are known as "wok breath/chi" (wok hei in Cantonese). Chi/Hei is a very general word that can contain many meanings, so it can be a little confusing. This bombardment of heat cooks the product quickly and with less loss of moisture (it's similar in principle to a really hot tandoor cooking a kebab or tandoori chicken).

The key of stirfry is to cook it quickly and evenly with NO browning (this is where we diverge a bit from European cooking techniques and requires a bit of a brain switch) and the resulting products are done al dente but not raw. Blanch your vegetables in water to achieve an even cooking inside and out, Blanch your meats in some oil (marinaded in starch and other seasonings) to achieve a similar effect.

Then you can start stir frying by swirling a couple tablespoons of oil on a scalding wok, add your aromatics (usually garlic and ginger and chiles) into the oil (sort of like sweating, but at really high heat... known as popping the aromatics) and stir them until you can smell the fragrance wafting up upon which you add your vegetables. Now comes the difficult part... like a ramped-up saute what you want to do here is continually toss the food (not too high) to get the food heated evenly. Do this for about a minute then add your meat to finish and continue for another 30 seconds. At this point you want to add your glaze (a proper stirfry shouldn't be saucy, should have a light shiny sheen on top, that's it). Add a small amount of starch/flavouring slurry and continue stirring for another half minute, finish with a fragrant oil and plate.

Cooking starches with the stir fry method (such as noodles and rice) occur in much the same manner and a good stir fry cook will be able to cook rice noodles without it sticking together in a clump or leaving the noodles to darken, though less proficient stir fry cooks will use too much oil to prevent that. Stir fry dishes from other parts of asia (such as pad thai) require similar finesse though I find that they generally use more sauce.

As for the nutritional difference, people say that quick cooking methods allow fewer moistures and nutrients to be released/destroyed... but I certainly don't have any hard evidence to back that up.

Actually, I've always been a little confused by the use of the term saute. Which of the following scenarios count as "saute"?:

a) I want to saute some corn by taking a handful of corn kernels, heating some clarified butter in a saute pan and then moving them around the pan by tossing over a good heat

b) I want to saute a mirepoix for a eventual use in a sauce or a hash (is sweating count as saute, or are they different because you're not browning?).

c) I want to saute a supreme of chicken by searing the outside until brown then finishing in the oven (or is that roasting)?

d) None of the above (if so provide examples).

e) All of the above

f) Some of the above
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
post #9 of 13
I usually hear this technique referred to as "passing".
post #10 of 13
This is a really good description of proper stir fry. Well organized, well thought out, and right. The one thing you didn't mention is the importance of pre-prep -- including knife work and just having everything ready to go -- mis en place in place.

True dat, I'm still trying to get this under control. Hmmm.

Depends on the amount of clarified butter, heat, and how long you wait before you start tossing, and tossing again. Too little or too much and it's not a saute. Should be just enough to sizzle and no more. Heat levels are similar to wok hei. That is, hot enough to sear quickly. With a saute, the food stays just long enough to start a sear, then is moved -- ideally by tossing. Sauteed food is not stirred, but turned.

A sweat is not a saute because it is done over lower heat.

A sear with an oven finish is a "pan roast."

Asked and answered.

Asked and answered.

Asked and answered.

I loved your wokking blues,
post #11 of 13
Holy crap!

Thanks for the intimate ride through stir fry!

While I still struggle and stumble through the dynamic experience that is a good stir fry--you manage to put it all into words, and eloquently at that.

post #12 of 13
It's most certainly true that excellent knife skills are needed to do the mise for stir fries (especially for a busy night's worth), and perhaps it's a personal bias but I find that an "average" East Asian (such as Japanese or Chinese or Thai) cook has better knife skills than the "average" North American cook... which I find unfortunate. Perhaps a classically French-trained cook in Europe has better knife skills than the average North American cook (I assume they turn or dice a lot of veg or break down more meat), but I've had little exposure in that regard. I think with the introduction of pre-portioned foods and convenience products we've lost some of the kitchen essentials that in my opinion are one of the hallmarks of a great cook.

My aunt (a long time home cook) has excellent knife skills and can wield a cleaver with exceptional skill whereas I would say that mine are "passable". Oh well, I guess I should keep on practicing, though I wish I inherited her skills from the beginning :).
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
post #13 of 13
I would agree that the average East Asian cook has better knife skills than the average North American. But a lot of that, I believe, has to do with how things---particularly proteins---are brought to table.

Typically, North American meals involve larger pieces that require cutting at the table by the diner. Asian, on the other hand, more typically consists of small pieces already cut by the cook.

Thus, just through necessary prep work, the Asian cook develops knife skills, if nothing else though repetition, that the typical North American cook doesn't.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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