No-Added-Fat Sauteing and Browning

Most of us, I’m sure, try to eat at least somewhat healthily.  And that includes not adding fat or oil where we don’t need to.  I fight high cholesterol, high blood pressure and my weight, so I’m right in there.

A simple way to dramatically cut down on the amount of added fat and oil in your cooking is to use a little salt to saute or brown food.  Salt draws the moisture out of food so that it won’t burn.  As a young girl, I learned to pay-fry hamburgers by sprinkling a little salt in the pan, heating it up and then putting the hamburgers in.  More recently, I’ve experimented with this technique and found that it works for lots of foods.

Okay, you’re saying . . . this sounds like I’m just substituting one health no-no for another.  If you’re on a total salt-free diet, that’s true.  But most of us simply try to watch our salt intake.  Therefore, if you subtract the salt you’re using to brown the food from what you’d otherwise add, it doesn’t add extra salt.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • This technique is easiest with a non-stick pan, but I’ve done it plenty of times in a regular pan and the clean up is about the same as if I’d used oil.
  • Lightly sprinkle the pan with salt.  I really don’t use a lot — see the photo.
  • “Lite” salt (a 50/50 mix of sodium chloride and potassium chloride) works; true “Salt Substitute” (100% potassium chloride) does not.
  • If you like to use bouillon powder to add flavor to meats and other foods, you can use it as long it’s not “clumpy.”
  • Preheat the pan over fairly high heat before adding the food.  My stove has 6 notches from the lowest to highest heat; I use the next to highest.
  • The pan must be hot before you add the food (this is true if you’re using oil, too).  The food should “sizzle” when it’s added or it won’t brown.
  • After you add the food, let it sizzle for at least two minutes.  I know, it’s hard to do because it sounds like it’s burning.  But if you stir it or use a spatula to lift meat (such as a pork chop or hamburger) up, it won’t brown.
  • Exactly how much time you need to give it is a bit of an “art” — it depends on the food, the pan and exactly how hot the burner is.
  • When you stir or flip the food, again let it sizzle to brown the new side.
  • When the food is browned on all sides, proceed with the recipe as you normally would.
  • I’ve used this technique very successfully with beef, pork and every vegetable I’ve tried.  Seafood, fish, chicken and turkey are trickier, but will work if you pay close attention — the time to brown may be shorter.

Lots of cooking references suggest “browning” foods in a bit of liquid (such as vegetable juice, broth, wine or water) instead of oil.  My experience is that the liquid boils off before the food is browned, so you’re browning the food in an essentially dry pan — or, if you use more liquid, the food cooks but doesn’t really brown.

The other option is to use non-stick cooking spray.  But this does add a bit of fat (called “trivial” on labels) . . . and I figure why add it when I don’t need to?

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  • Jan
    Posted at 09 September 2011 Reply

    Great tip! I always use a bit of water or broth. I had never heard of salt! Thanks! Jan

  • Bonnie Walters
    Posted at 09 September 2011 Reply

    Thanks for the cooking without added fat technique. This really solved a problem for me. Getting a little brown on things beats always steaming or microwaving. I started not adding fat three months ago along with adopting a mostly plant-based diet and have been missing the taste of browned foods! I have had spectacular results from the new eating habits and am always looking for ways to make veggies more interesting. This helps. Thanks.

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