Posted by Chef Charles Knight on July 24, 2015
Sautéing Without Fat
Many recipes call for sautéing vegetables, particularly a mirepoix (a mixture of carrots, celery and onions used for seasoning), in oil. Although we do need some oil in our diet, and some oils are better than others, the problem with sautéing vegetables in oil or butter is not so much the oil or butter itself, but the process. When vegetables are sautéed in oil, they do not properly caramelize and release the aromatic flavors into the dish being cooked. For example: When professional chefs need extra flavor in a particular dish, at times they will take a peeled whole or quartered onion, stick a fork in it and hold it over an open flame and actually burn the onion. The onion is then placed into the sauce, gravy, soup or stew and allowed to simmer with the ingredients. This is done to brown (caramelize) the onion to bring the natural flavor-filled sugars and salts to the surface.
Then why would the same chef add oil to the pan to brown a mirepoix? The answer is simple: Cheap, thin pans, even the coated ones, cannot cook vegetables sans oil without the vegetables sticking and burning. Likewise, professional or commercially designed pans are too large for most home cooking. A small quantity of vegetables cooked in a large pan over high heat will burn; therefore, oil is needed. In addition, costly time spent by a professional cook or chef in such menial application is time and money wasted. So oil is used, and lots of it, sometimes as much as ¼ cup or more. Unfortunately, the oil coats the vegetables and prevents them from properly caramelizing and releasing their natural flavor. As a result, oil is now incorporated into the dish itself, and extra flavoring in the form of salt must be added to make up for what has been lost.
Comparisons of Fats, Salts and Mirepoix (carrots, celery and onion):
Olive Oil, per tablespoon: 119 Calories; 13.5g fat (100% calories from fat); 1.8g Saturated Fat; 9.9g Monounsaturated Fat; 1.1g Polyunsaturated Fat
Vegetable Oil, per tablespoon: 120 Calories; 14.6g fat (100% calories from fat); 1.6g Saturated Fat; 8.1g Monounsaturated Fat; 2.9g Polyunsaturated Fat
Clarified Butter, per tablespoon: 119 Calories; 13.6g fat (99.9% calories from fat); 8.4g Saturated Fat; 3.9g Monounsaturated Fat; 0.5g Polyunsaturated Fat
Table Salt, per teaspoon: 2,132mg Sodium
Kosher Salt and Sea Salt, per teaspoon: 1,880mg Sodium
Simple Mirepoix (carrot, celery and onion): 69 Calories; 0.3g Fat (4.1% calories from fat); 2.4 Protein; 1.5g Carbohydrates; 0mg Cholesterol; 612mg Sodium
As you can see from the comparisons above, the sodium (612mg) in the mirepoix is one-third that of 1 teaspoon of salt. When caramelized properly, dry sautéed using no oil, the natural sugars and salts of the mirepoix are allowed to combine with the natural flavors of the other ingredients. The end result is more nutritional, flavorful meal without the extra calories from oil and the dangers of added sodium (salt). Even the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, is now teaching and recommending the dry sauté method in their Nutritional Cuisine Course for Master Chefs. The secret, for the home cook as well as the professional chef, is to use a high-quality smaller pan that conducts heat evenly and gently and to use lower cooking temperature. A full-body induction skillet is your best bet.
Olive Oil or Butter
If you decide to add a small amount of pure golden olive oil (not extra virgin) or unsalted butter for flavor, as I do in some of the recipe, a good rule of thumb is to add it after the vegetables have been dry sautéed or cooked the waterless way. I believe you’ll thoroughly enjoy the results, and your body will benefit, in both the short and the long term.
Note: it’s very important NOT to allow oil to exceed its Smoke Point.
|Smoke Point Index|
|Smoke points of common fats; Courtesy of the Culinary Institute of America bible.|
|TYPE OF FAT||SMOKE POINT|
|Rice Bran Oil||490°F/260°C|
|Light/Refined Olive Oil||465°F/240°C|
|Lard (perfect for frying)||370°F/185°C|
|Golden Olive Oil (perfect for frying)||375°F/190°C|
|Chicken Fat (Schmaltz)||375°F/190°C|
|Avocado Oil (Virgin)||375-400°F/190-205°C|
|Extra-Virgin Olive Oil||325-375°F/165-190°C|