Pan-Frying and Sautéing: Conduction

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Frying and sautéing are methods that heat foods for the most part by conduction from a hot, oiled pan, with temperatures between 350 and 450°F/175–225°C that encourage Maillard browning and flavor development. The fat or oil has several roles to play: it brings the uneven surface of the food into uniform contact with the heat source, it lubricates and prevents sticking, and it supplies some flavor. As is true in broiling, the trick in frying is to prevent the outside from overcooking before the inside is done. The surface is quickly dehydrated by the high temperatures—odd as it sounds, frying in oil is a “dry” technique—while the interior remains largely water and never exceeds 212°F/100°C. In order to reduce the disparity between outer and inner cooking times, we generally fry only thin cuts of food. It’s also common practice to fry meats at a high initial temperature—to sear them—in order to accomplish the browning, and then to reduce the heat while the interior heats through. Yet another way to avoid overcooking the outer portions of the food is to coat it in another material that develops pleasant flavors when fried, and acts as a kind of insulation to protect the inner food from direct contact with high heat. Breadings and batters are such insulators.