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I've read numerous times that when sauteing, the pan used usually has curved sides to allow one to toss the food. However, whenever I look at pans on shopping websites and such, the pan labeled "saute pan" has straight vertical sides and a lid. The lid is even more confusing when one thinks about it, since a lid would cause steaming--the exact opposite of the goal of sauteing. So what's up with this confusing naming?

edit:

As requested, here's a "link" to many pans labeled "saute"... Google shopping

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Can you share a link to one of these saute pans? –  Chad Feb 5 '11 at 12:31
    
You're right - this doesn't make sense, they should have sloped sides so you can easily toss (or jump as daniel said below) the sauteeing things –  Sam Holder Feb 5 '11 at 18:20
    
I find by far the most essential use of a large lidded saute pan, straight sided, is for cooking pilau/pilaf. As a result, I consider it essential equipment. –  Orbling Feb 5 '11 at 18:56
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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

North American cookware companies seem to use the terms "saute" and "sauteuse" interchangeably, but technically, the saute pan is the straight-sided one, and the sauteuse or "fry pan" is the slope-sided one.

In French cooking equipment terms, the straight-sided one is called a "sautoir", and the sauteuse has higher sides and while angled out, they are not curved. The curved, shorter sided one is called a poele (and probably what most North Americans would identify as a "frying pan"). So the issue is really that there are a lot of different names floating around for just 3 types of pans.

When you saute, you want to maximize cooking surface area, so that things don't steam. Sloped sides will reduce the cooking surface, so that's why a saute pan will have straight sides. Regarding the lid, it would be used in the case that you want to cover the pan after a sear, to braise or steam. It also makes your pan more versatile.

Regardless of the etymology of "saute", according to La Cuisine de Reference, the definition of saute is to cook quickly in a small amount of oil, and any of the aforementioned pans can be used for this cooking technique.

"Sauter - Cuire rapidement des petites pièces de viande, de poisson ou de légumes dans un sautoir, une sauteuse ou une poêle, avec un peu de matière grasse."

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+1 Thanks for the great detailed answer. –  Benny Jobigan Feb 5 '11 at 19:15
    
Per French cooking, frying is specifically using oil/fat as the medium for the heat exchange, which requires quite a bit of oil/fat. Sautéing would be using a small amount of oil/fat and high heat with tender and smaller cuts of meat or vegetables that cook quickly (or are, potentially, already cooked most of the way through with another method). With sautéing the oil is more to just protect the surface from burning; therefore, the techniques are not as related as suggested above--one uses oil to transfer the heat and the other uses the radiant heat of the pan to transfer the heat. –  user18613 Jun 5 '13 at 18:42
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The straight sides are helpful when you are deglazing the pan for a sauce. Otherwise, the sauce might stick to the sloping sides of the pan, vaporize and burn as it reduces. For me, sautéing is basically browning the meat, but catching the juices to make a saucy meal. The lid is used if the pan is too big for the amount of meat you use, if you don't use the lid, the juices will vaporize and there will be no sauce.

For more information about cookware see: http://www.vegetable-recipes-by-cooking-method.com/cookware-review.html

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sautéeing is in fact the action of frying on high heat while tossing the product (sauté is French for 'jump') in the pan. what you are describing is a sauce pan. –  daniel Feb 5 '11 at 14:36
    
For me sauce pans are the ones with high sides (as high as their diameter), sauté pans have low sides, fry pans have curved sides. You are right about the high heat, but I don't call it frying, because for me frying is done without moving the meat around, just turning it from time to time –  addam Feb 5 '11 at 15:04
    
Well you'd be kinda wrong there. Frying is any cooking technique that involves food on a hot surface (that isn't a grill or a plancha, basically). Sauteeing is a subset of frying. –  daniel Feb 5 '11 at 19:36
    
yeah, that's why I say "for me" :) thanks for making that clear to me. I'm not professionally trained, just a cooking enthusiast, as you may have realized by now :) –  addam Feb 5 '11 at 19:58
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