Other than a good Knife, the best piece of equipment you can buy is a standard 9 inch saute pan since it’s something that is almost always going to be used when making just about any meal. Need to make Roux? Get out your Saute pan. Need to make French Toast? Most of you don’t have a griddle so get out your saute pan.
Saute is more or less equal to instant gratification since you’re using high heat from below to cook something quickly with a light layer of some type of oil or fat as a medium. But the key to Saute is knowing how hot is hot enough without burning whatever you’re working with. It’s a matter of balance. You need to get a sense of when to turn the heat down or raise the pan, sauteing is about finesse and control.
By definition, saute is French for Jump and this is due to the fact that since you are cooking at high heat, whatever you’re cooking needs to constantly be in a state of motion so that it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn. Another thing to keep in mind is that you want whatever you’re cooking to be cut small so that is has more surface area and thus cooks faster.
You need to be careful with using butter as a medium since it has a very low smoke point and burns quickly if you’re not careful. For most things you can use a simple canola oil but remember that you don’t need much, just enough to lightly coat the Saute pan since you’re not trying to immerse the food in oil, that’s called Frying.
One beginner’s mistake that a lot of people make is that they keep whatever they cooked in the pan after they take it off the stove without realizing that the pan is still hot and will continue to cook the food. Think ahead and don’t do this.