Sauteed Asparagus

Sauteed Asparagus is easily confused with just putting some asparagus in a frying pan and frying it. Sautéing is a specific cooking technique that involves cooking the ingredients quickly in a small amount of fat or oil at a very high temperature. The word sauté comes from the french for to “jump” and refers to the action of the way that food seem ready to jump out of the pan due to the high temperature.

Different fats and oils behave differently at high temperatures.

Butter will burn as the milk solids get too hot but clarified butter avoids this problem. Pure olive oil is a good oil for sautéing as it does not burn at the heats required for sautéing. Other good oils for sautéing include grape seed and a variety of refined oils including canola, peanut, sunflower, corn, soy and safflower oil.

At the temperatures used for sautéing water evaporates immediately preventing the food from stewing or steaming in its own juice so using a lower than ideal temperature will change the sautéing process into a steaming or frying process.

In order to keep the temperature correct throughout the process food must be spread evenly and in a fairly thin layer over the base of the pan to keep the food in contact with the heat and to allow steam to escape rather than build up. This means that the food would generally need to be cut into small even pieces or slices.

The best pan to use for sautéing is one with a wide area and shallow sides to allow this thin layer of food and to allow the steam to escape. Thin pans can allow hot spots to form which can lead to the fat burning in some areas whilst being below temperature in others so a solid heavy cast iron skillet is best. The heavy bottom spreads heat evenly.

Searing is sometimes confused with sautéing. Searing is the process of cooking at a high temperature but not cooking through to the centre of the food. It can thus be used as a technique to use with larger pieces of meat to seal the outside of the meat before further cooking. Its not relevant to asparagus but I thought you might be interested!

Bearing all of this in mind here’s how to saute asparagus

Sauteed Asparagus


To sauté properly and safely you will need to give your sautéing food all of your attention until it is cooked and off the stove. If you have to leave it switch the heat off however quick you think you are going to be.

  1. Cut the asparagus into short even lengths and cut lengthwise if the spears are particularly thick

  2. Place a heavy wide sautéing frying pan/ skillet on the stove and heat it up. It is hot enough when a teaspoon of water dropped on the surface evaporates into a ball on touching the surface. Be very careful this will be a very high temperature.

  3. Pour a small amount of your chosen oil into the pan

  4. Add the asparagus pieces and a little seasoning to the pan being sure that they only form a single layer on the surface of the pan

  5. Sauté for a few minutes 2 – 4 minutes will be sufficient at this temperature, keep the asparagus moving all the time by little jerking actions of the pan and using a spatula

At no point should the oil smoke as this means the fat is breaking down and will give an unpleasant flavour to the asparagus.

Serve your sauteed asparagus immediately for a really crisp freshly cooked effect.

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