Module 2-3 Dry-Heat Cooking with Fat

Dry-heat cooking methods with fat includes stir-frying, pan-frying, deep-frying, and sautéing. They rely on high smoke-point fat such as canola oil, grapeseed oil, refined olive oil, ghee, etc., to act as the cooking medium.

Dry-Heat Cooking with Fat: Sautéing and Pan-Frying

Fat allows you to cook your food using very high temperatures; this effectively browns your food and makes it taste great. Steak, chicken, and fish are tender proteins that behave and respond well to this cooking method.

Tender cuts of protein cooked using dry-heat methods result in a piece of meat that is tender and juicy. This method is not suitable for tougher cuts of meat. Muscle that gets a lot of exercise will be your tougher cuts of meat. Whereas muscle that does not exercise will be the more tender cuts.

What is the difference between sautéing and pan-frying? In a sauté, the food is cut into small pieces (diced onion or a tenderloin cut into bite size pieces) and in pan-frying the meat is left in larger pieces (chicken thighs or ribeye steak). I will use the term pan-frying when discussing this technique.

Pan-frying/sautéing are used for tender cuts of meat.

  1. Cube steak – this is most often a piece of pounded top round or sirloin steak
  2. Pork cutlets
  3. Pork chops
  4. Fish
  5. Chicken
  6. Any cut of beef from the rib or loin sections such as: rib-eye steak, tenderloin, porterhouse, T-bone, top sirloin, or filet mignon.

We will practice pan-frying with:

  • Chicken breast medallions
  • Pork tenderloin cutlets
  • Chicken thighs

When pan-frying you need to use a skillet that is on the larger side but not too big. If the pan is too small, the meat will not brown. Instead, it will just simmer in its juices.  On the flip side, we don’t want to use a pan that is too big either. If the skillet is too large, there will be spots that will not have food, and since there is nothing to absorb the excess heat, the oil will burn in these areas.   We want the meat to develop a beautiful brown sear which will seal in the juices and flavor of the meat without scorching or burning.

The previous lesson discussed how to properly use a stainless-steel skillet and when to add oil and food to the skillet. If you have not yet not read this lesson (Module 2-2) or the lesson on Cookware (Module 1-3), please stop and read before continuing (unless you already know how to use a STAINLESS-STEEL skillet). Nonstick cookware is not an acceptable choice for high heat cooking. If you use your nonstick skillet for everything, then please read this article on nonstick cookware. If you don’t have a stainless-steel skillet or cannot afford one, invest in an iron skillet instead. With the exception of acidic foods, you can cook anything in an iron skillet that you can cook in a stainless-steel skillet. I cannot stress the necessity of understanding how and why to use the correct skillet for the job.

Once you have finished cooking your protein, allow it to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. There is a reason for this and its not because “that’s what they do on all of the cooking shows”. As meat cooks, the muscle fibers constrict and get firm. This pushes the moisture out towards the surface of the meat. Resting the meat allows the moisture to redistribute back through the meat. This will results in a juicier, more tender piece of meat. If you cut the meat too soon, the liquid spills out resulting in a dry, tougher piece of meat.

Malliard Reaction

Browning, or the Maillard reaction, creates flavor and changes the color of food. It requires temperatures to reach at least 300 degrees to complete the necessary chemical reaction for browning to occur. Until the Maillard reaction occurs, meat will have less flavor. Interestingly, it is not limited to meat or fish but to all foods that contain protein. The main problem is that the Maillard reaction is both time and temperature dependent. This means that the home cook or beginning chef must listen to variables such as meat thickness, time, and how hot (or not hot) the pan is for the Malliard reaction to successfully complete.  

Water is the sworn enemy of the Maillard reaction; it lowers the temperature and greatly minimizes the reaction. This is the reason that overcrowding your pan is such a bad thing.

So now that we have covered a few basics and reviewed a few concepts let’s get cooking with:

Module 2-3: Recipe: Pan-Fried Chicken Breast Medallions

Module 2-3 Recipe: Pan-Fried Pork Tenderloins

Module 2-3 Recipe: Donna’s pan-seared crispy chicken thighs