Some foods need moist, long cooking to tenderize them while others just require a quick sauté in a skillet. Sauté means “jump” in French which describes the tossing and turning in the skillet during the cooking process. There are a few basic secrets to perfect sautéing that will help you get better cooking results.
The trick to successful sautéing is to use a medium-high heat and a small amount of oil. As a matter of fact meats and other protein-based foods should not be turned too often because extended contact with the hot skillet will brown the surface of the food which will deliver extra flavor. Heat the skillet over a medium-high heat and if the pan is too hot you will burn the outside of the food before the inside is cooked so turn down the heat a bit.
Do not use butter for sautéing. Use oil. Butter contains milk solids that burn and smoke at high temperatures. Some cookbooks call for mixing butter and oil which supposedly increases the smoke point of the butter. This does not remove the milk solids that are the problem. You can, however, use clarified butter, but it is easier to use oil for cooking meats. If you want a butter flavor then use it in a pan sauce.
Thick cuts of meat can be difficult to cook through when sautéing. You may want to use a double-cooking method for thick cuts. Double-cut pork and lamb chops, porterhouse steaks, and large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves are too thick to cook through in a skillet on the stove top. It is best to brown them in the skillet, and then finish cooking them in a 400° F oven. Be sure that your skillet is ovenproof.
Make a pan sauce to take advantage of the browned bits in the pan which are loaded with delicious flavor. Remove the meat from the skillet and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep the meat warm. Pour off the fat from the skillet and return the skillet to the medium-high heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of minced shallots and a tablespoon of butter. Do not add the butter alone as the skillet may be too hot and the butter will burn. The shallots will act as insulation. Cook for a minute or so to soften the shallots and then add about 1 cup of an appropriate stock. Wine may seem like a good choice, but it can be too strong. Boil the stock, scraping up the bits in the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula until it is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1to 2 tablespoons of cold butter (a tablespoon at a time) to thicken the sauce lightly.