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Sauteing is pretty problematic for me with butter. It is difficult to find the sweet spot where you don't burn the butter but don't steam the veggies, and even then seldom I will not get a sizzle even thought I did not crowd the pan.

I know sauteing in butter may be a bad idea, but I like the flavor it gives to sauces, especially Marinara (and how can I make an Alfredo without sauteing mushrooms?? Ridiculous!)

Any methods for melting an sauteing in butter?

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Sauteing in butter is not really all that different from sauteing in any other oil: it just takes an awareness of the smoke point, and avoiding it. Consider investing in an IR thermometer that can tell you exactly the temperature of the pan (with or without the oil) so you can heat the pan to exactly the right point. For butter, that is about 350°F, which is not all that much lower than other oils - including EVOO, for example.

One suggestion is to do as the French do (who sauté in butter all the time!) and use clarified butter, which removes the solids from the butter. It's easy to do, and significantly raises the smoke point (as those solids start smoking much earlier than the oil does). Clarified butter has a smoke point of 450°F, as high as peanut oil. You don't even have to go to the extreme that the linked recipe does in clarifying; simply spooning out the bits you can easily see will often be sufficient. You can clarify butter and then refrigerate or freeze it, if you want to do it in large batches.

Second, use a pan that retains heat well - a heavier pan. That will allow you to cook at a lower temperature effectively. A thinner pan will have more hot spots, which lead to smoke sooner.

Third, make sure you're cooking the right amount of food in the right order. Don't crowd the pan too much. I've sauteed mushrooms and similar with no problem in butter; steaming shouldn't be an issue if you have the right amount of food in the pan at once. If you overload it, though, you do end up cooking too slowly and unevenly, and steaming or just mushing your food.

Fourth, salt is your friend when it comes to moisture. If you're cooking something very moist, salt it before cooking it (but after chopping it), give it a bit of time (5-10 minutes at least). This will let the salt remove some of the moisture, particularly from the outside. Then, wipe off the excess salt and the excess moisture with a cloth or paper towel before sauteing. (Don't give it a long time as eventually the moisture goes back in, and your food gets too salty.) This works well for me with things like eggplant or zucchini - remove some moisture, then saute - as well as the thicker mushrooms (like portobello or white mushrooms).

  • I find the biggest disadvantage to clarified butter is that you lose the buttery flavor from removing the milk solids, which is all the reason you bother using butter in the first place. – Bar Akiva Mar 14 '16 at 20:08
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    @BarAkiva You do lose some of the flavor, but then again you don't have to use entirely clarified butter, right? If you find you can cook onions fine in regular butter, but mushrooms give you problems, then cook in two stages - onions first in butter, remove, add clarified butter and mushrooms. I like how food tastes in semi-clarified butter - when I just spoon out the obvious solids that rise to the top - but still has a higher apparent smoke point (probably produces some smoke, but not enough to bother). – Joe M Mar 14 '16 at 20:09
  • Recently when I melt butter in a pan it gets bubbly for some reason. Any idea what is up? – Bar Akiva Mar 14 '16 at 20:36
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    If you're melting it in a fairly hot pan (hot before the butter is in it), that's not too surprising - that's the water in the butter (which is somewhere around a sixth or so of the butter's contents, if you have regular American style butter) boiling. Hotter pans bubble the water more (rather than just gently steaming off) - think the hot pan water test (where you drop some water in a pan, and if it instantly bubbles and bounces around, it's hot enough to cook in). – Joe M Mar 14 '16 at 20:49

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