From Raw to Sauté…and the flavor in-between!

It wasn’t long ago that when I sautéed my diced onions and/or vegetables I always took them to the caramelized state (brown).  Isn’t that where all the flavor is anyway?  Well, I am here to tell you there is a great deal of flavor to be had even before you make your onions brown (which, by the way, is my favorite way to eat onions).  That is, the space between raw and saute’!

Ever heard someone say, “the more you cook them the better they’ll taste.”  That’s true but it depends on “how” you cook them as to the “good, better or best” you will accomplish in taste!

For example – a raw onion is pungent but has it’s application in salads, sandwiches, tacos and such!  When your recipe calls for you to  sauté an onion, you want it to reach a soft stage without any color (if you take it to a brown color you are caramelizing it).  So you ask, what happens when I am trying to saute’ my onions and vegetables but they are still firm and beginning to turn brown.  That, my friend, is when you add…..water!  Yes, water.  Not a lot, but just enough to cover your veggies…then let the liquid reduce down in a simmer.  Once your liquid is almost gone (but not entirely), taste or poke your onions and/or veggies to see if they are soft.  If they are, EUREKA, you made it.  If they are not soft, add more water and repeat the liquid reducing process.  This process is extracting all the flavor from your onions and vegetables so it will mix with your other ingredients creating a flavorful finished product.  Take note that each time you add more water it will become more and more cloudy.  This is the flavor coming out of the vegetables into the water.  Don’t be afraid to cook them for 10 -15 minutes or more.  Chef Brian says 30-35 minutes is the magic number when extracting all the flavor out of your vegetables.

So you say, “I still don’t understand!”  Well, it’s test time!  A great way you can test this theory is to try it.

Dice up some vegetables.


Throw them in a pan with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Begin sauteing.


Before they begin to brown (don’t mind the brown bits in the pan, pretend you don’t see them)  cover them in water, about 1 inch over the top of the veggies.


Bring it to a simmer and let the liquid reduce down.  At this point check the vegetables to see if they are soft.


Total cooking time, from the time you put the veggies in the pan to the time your done cooking, could be up to 30 minutes.  Don’t be afraid to add more water during the process.  Add enough water to cover them and then a little more.  (Remember, if you add too much water it will always evaporate out if you cook them long enough.)  To be sure you’re testing this theory correctly you must be tasting your product as you go.  Yum, Yum!

Taste the water when you first add it to the pan and at any point in the cooking process.  Then taste once again at the end. Does it have a vegetable and/or onion taste?    At the 30-35 minute mark make a note of how the water tastes.  That taste is what will be added into your dishes if you apply this application to those recipes that call for sauteing.  It’s not going to be a flavor you’ll want to put into a glass and drink  for dinner but it should taste like vegetables, without all the fanfare of seasoning.

Sometimes you won’t have the time to cook them for up to 30 minutes and that’s ok, just make sure you cook your veggies until soft.  At least you’ll get the “better” taste instead of the “good” taste from your veggies.  Of course you really want the “best” when you can get it!

I am sure you’re wondering why it matters…and the truth of it is this.  There is a different flavor profile at each step of the process.  In other words (from the mouth of Chef Brian),  “if you and I made the exact same recipe, mine would taste better.”  Why?  Because sautéing your onions and vegetables properly will make all the difference in the end.

Now I am off the make some Cream of Cheese Broccoli Soup for a dinner party!  (that recipe coming soon!)

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  • Sarah Bertagnole

    Thank you Dixie!!! I am soooo excited about this site!!! I will be going to the Dixie J’s Culinary school!!! I loved that lesson about getting your veggies soft without carmelizing them!!!

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